Michael Horowitz
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Personal Blog
Michael Horowitz

I have been a computer nerd since writing my first program in 1973.
Since 2007 I have been blogging on Defensive Computing.
The latest incarnation of the blog is at Computerworld.com.
This blog is for other stuff.

Another wiped iPad

September 27, 2012

Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, blogged about another iPad that was wiped clean. The iPad 2 belonged to his 80-something grandparents. They went to the Genius Bar with instructions to setup iCloud backup. But, the iPad was running iOS 4 and iCloud requires iOS 5 or 6. As I blogged about, an upgrade from iOS 4 to 5 requires completely erasing the iPad. Long story short, the Apple employee did not backup their data before clobbering it.

Arment writes: "It’s easy for most of us around these parts to forget how badly technology still works for so many people."

His grandparents could not handle syncing the iPad to iTunes running on a Windows computer. So they were going to dump the PC and rely instread on iCloud for backup. The backup concern came from his grandfather who worried about transferring his stuff to a new iPad should theirs break. Arment writes:

"I told him to bring it to the nearby Apple Store and have them set up “ICLOUD BACKUP” for him." I figured that a “Genius” would quickly figure out whether it still had iOS 4, and if so, would just update it to iOS 5 or 6 and then set up iCloud backup. But instead of doing what I assumed would be a non-destructive update, the Genius did a restore. And, apparently, didn’t explain what that was going to mean... "

"This is supposed to be the best we have today: an iPad, a routine OS update, an Apple Store, an automatic backup feature ... the iPad ... shows its computer heritage in clunky, ugly, techie ways like software updates and restores. And while Apple Stores have a reputation for great service, there are enough counterexamples happening every day that I’m not sure how much longer that reputation will last... "


Apple's Future

September 23, 2012

An interesting article in the New York Times, Has Apple Peaked?, by Joe Nocera argues that Apple is on the downslope of its existance.

In the context of the poor reviews of Apple maps in iOS 6, Nocera writes about how Steve Jobs dealt with a previous substantard product, MobileMe, in 2008. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography, Jobs "gathered the team into an auditorium, berated them mercilessly and then got rid of the team leader in front of everybody". The implication is that that will not happen to the team that created the new maps.

Nocera writes:

"It is rare that a company is so completely an extension of one man’s brain as Apple was an extension of Jobs. While he was alive, that was a strength; now it’s a weakness. Apple’s current executive team is no doubt trying to maintain the same demanding, innovative culture, but it’s just not the same without the man himself looking over everybody’s shoulder. If the map glitch tells us anything, it is that."

But the lack of a larger-than-life, all-powerful leader, is just the appetizer. Companies inevitable evolve. Quoting Nocera:

" ... there is also a less obvious — yet possibly more important — reason that Apple’s best days may soon be behind it. When Jobs returned to the company in 1997, after 12 years in exile, Apple was in deep trouble. It could afford to take big risks and, indeed, to search for a new business model, because it had nothing to lose. Fifteen years later, Apple has a hugely profitable business model to defend — and a lot to lose. Companies change when that happens. "

"It was less than 15 years ago that Microsoft appeared to be invincible. But once its Windows operating system and Office applications became giant moneymakers, Microsoft’s entire strategy became geared toward protecting its two cash cows. It ruthlessly used its Windows platform to promote its own products at the expense of rivals ... Although Microsoft still makes billions, its new products are mainly “me-too” versions of innovations made by other companies. Now it is Apple’s turn to be king of the hill — and, not surprisingly, it has begun to behave in a very similar fashion ... Apple wants to force its customers to use its own products, even when they are not as good as those from rivals. Once companies start acting that way, they become vulnerable to newer, nimbler competitors ... "

Update: October 3, 2012. Since this article was published, there have more problems with the iPhone 5. One has to do with the new aluminum cover being easily scratched. So easily, that many new ones are arriving scratched in the box. Then too, there is a bug with Wi-Fi that caused iOS 6 users to consume mass quantities of 3G/4G data, even when connected to a Wi-Fi network. Apple issued a bug fix for Verizon users. I've read about battery life issues with iOS 6 and it seems there's more than one Wi-Fi problem.


My first iPad in-app purchase

September 19, 2012

A few days ago I heard Michael Lewis interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air about an article he had written in Vanity Fair about the President. It sounded fascinating, a behind-the-scenes look at what it is like to be the President. Lewis actually got to shadow Obama for a few months. I could read it online for free (see Obama’s Way) but I opted to purchase the October 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, both to try out in-app purchases on an iPad running iOS 5, and, as a way of rewarding the magazine for such great journalism.

There was much not to like about the technology.

I don't know what Vanity Fair costs on a newstand, but $4.99 seems a bit steep for an electronic copy of a single issue. Sales tax was added on top of that. And the whole 99 cents is getting obnoxious. Be a bit more honest and charge an even $5. Plus, there are still ads. At one time, while swiping horizontally within the issue, there were three full page ads in a row.

The single issue was a huge download. According to Settings -> General -> Usage, its 293MB. A few of these can add up quickly on a 16GB iPad. I don't recall the exact size and I also can't look it up. After the download, the app no longer reports on the size of each issue.

Navigation within the app is confusing. Sometimes you swipe horizontally, sometimes vertically. It's never clear where a horizontal swipe takes you. I think there is a scheme to indicate something about vertical swiping, but I'm not sure.

Surprisingly, the experience of reading the article in the Vanity Fair app was far worse than reading it on their website. For one thing, I could not increase the font size in the app, something easily done on a web page. Then too, I was reading the article in a position where it easier for me to see the top of the screen as opposed to the bottom. On a web page, its a trivial thing to keep the paragraph you are reading at the top of the screen. In the app, it was not possible so I had to strain my eyes a bit to read text at the bottom of the screen. Then too, there was an extra segment to the article (Who is Tyler Stark) on the Vanity Fair website that is not included in the downloaded electronic issue.

The emailed confirmation of my in-app purchase also generated some gripes.

For one, there are links in the email to see an Apple ID Summary, to see your Purchase History and to report a problem. But none of the links worked for me because they require iTunes which I don't install as a rule. There is no reason for this, a simple web page should suffice.

And, ending at the end, the email confirmation message ends with:
     Copyright © 2011 Apple Inc. All rights reserved
The year is wrong and, I presume, has been wrong for nine months. To me, this is a sign of a broken company. I say this because its such a trivial thing to change. That it does not get changed says something bad about Apple. Either no one is paying attention or there is no means of communication to the people in charge of making this simple change.



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