Apple's Lost Functional High Ground

Marco Arment:

Apple’s hardware today is amazing — it has never been better. But the software quality has taken such a nosedive in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future.


The problem seems to be quite simple: they’re doing too much, with unrealistic deadlines.

We don’t need major OS releases every year. We don’t need each OS release to have a huge list of new features. We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace.

Apple's (lack of) software quality has been a consistent topic with my team at work, with my techie friends in town, and even with many friends who are not what I would call technology focused. That latter group should scare the crap out of Apple.

Those are the folks where the phrase “it just works” sounded like magic. And they believed the magic because save for a few things, it was magic. But now everyone sees the reality behind the tricks. The mystery is gone.

We're carrying around a drowned magician in the world's most exquisite glass case.


Demobilizer is a great little Safari extension by Junecloud, the makers of the wonderful Delivery Status.

What demobilizer does is take links mobile sites and redirects them to the full site. This is really helpful, as I click a lot of links from Twitter. I also see this a lot with links I have saved to Instapaper.

It’s a handy extension that stays out of your way, but enables your way forward.

[via Fruit Bytes]

Kindle Touch Software 5.0.3

I have been checking Amazon’s page for Kindle software updates every week or so since Christmas, as they tend to post them on the site for manual download before pushing them out over wireless directly to the device. The reason I have been checking is that, as much as I love my Kindle Touch, the responsiveness seems to have been getting worse over time.

Last night I checked again and noticed an update, version 5.0.3, had been posted for the Kindle Touch (mine shipped with 5.0.1, never saw 5.0.2).

The page doesn’t list what Amazon has improved, but after a manual install, I can affirm that page turns, navigation, and overall snappiness are much improved.

This update makes an already nice Kindle extremely great.

Pixelmator 2

Pixelmator is my pixel editor of choice. It doesn’t take up too many resources on your computer, it’s fast, and it looks great on your Mac.

Today it looks even better. Version 2 is available on the Mac App Store for a whopping $30 for a little while. The price will go up to $60 soon, so be sure to grab it quick. If you previously purchased it on the Mac App Store, the update is waiting for you free of charge.

Pixelmator 2 is made for OS X Lion, supporting features such as Full-Screen, Versions, and Auto-Save. It also brings other great features to the table, such as a Healing Tool with Content-Aware Fill, vector shape and drawing tools, smudge, sponge, burn, and dodge tools, red eye removal, a pixel-precise tool, revamped eyedropper tool, revamped type tool, and a handy info bar.

Pixelmator is right up there for many people’s Photoshop needs at a fraction of the price. You’d be crazy to not have this in your Mac’s arsenal.

Apple Goes Back to the Mac

Apple held its “Back to the Mac” shindig in Cupertino today. Here’s the new shiny.

iLife ‘11

Apple demoed major new features in iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand. iWeb and iDVD are still included, but it appears nothing has really changed for those two apps. This is the third iLife release in which iDVD has seen little-to-no love.

iPhoto gets a full-screen navigation mode, which looks very slick. Also, improved built-in email support, with templates; new slideshows; even better books (I’ve ordered books in the past as gifts. They’re fantastic); and letterpress cards. Letterpress is pretty fancy. Hard to believe you can get this from a computer company.

iMovie gets a neat movie trailer editor; impressive audio editing; one-step effects; people finder; and sports & news themes. With the much improved audio editor, it appears Apple’s revamp of iMovie in the 2008 edition has finally matured back to iMovie HD’s former glory.

GarageBand gets a new feature called Flex Time which helps keep various individual instrument tracks in rhythm. Also, Groove Matching takes a “genius” approach to match the rhythm of the whole band to a single rhythm. There are also guitar amps and effects; new basic lessons, and a “How Did I Play?” feature which tests your skills at playing a certain song.

iLife ‘11 is available today for $49, or comes free with a new Mac.

FaceTime for Mac

We all knew this day would come. FaceTime was first introduced with the iPhone 4. I found it useful when my wife was out of town for a week, but it hasn’t been used much since. Apple then brought FaceTime to the latest iPod touch last month, but I still haven’t been used the feature in a while. Now, with FaceTime for Mac, I have a feeling I’ll be video chatting from my iPhone a lot. Why? Grandparents. Both my parents and my wife’s parents have MacBooks, and we currently use iChat so they can see my son. The problem is that two year olds don’t sit still for long, and it’s hard to chase him with a MacBook Pro.

There’s no buddy list to maintain. FaceTime just pulls in your Address Book, just like the iPhone. FaceTime for Mac also installs a Push Notification bundle, so you can receive calls on your Mac even if FaceTime is closed.

Now the grandparents can do FaceTime with our iPhones. Now FaceTime is useful. Now FaceTime is mainstream.

FaceTime for Mac is available today as a public beta.


Apple introduced the next step of Mac OS X – Lion. To create iOS, Apple refashioned parts of Mac OS X. They learned a lot, made the iPad, and are now bringing what they learned from iOS back to the Mac. The main features they want to bring back from iOS are Multi-touch gestures, the App Store, App Home screens, full screen apps, auto save, & auto resume when launching.


On the Mac, multi-touch will take its focus on MacBook trackpads, the Magic Mouse, and the Magic Trackpad instead of the screen. They demoed using a Magic Mouse and an iMac, but honestly, I can’t see that being very comfortable. I use a Magic Trackpad with my MacBook Pro when at my desk (the Macbook is elevated on a stand), and I hope Apple just starts shipping those with iMacs in the near future.

The Mac App Store

Yesterday, I talked about a hope of mine for an easier installation and update process. Well, my wish has been granted, but in a way I didn’t really see happening. Apple is opening a Mac App Store within 90 days. It will be available on Snow Leopard, but I am sure it will be even more tightly integrated with Lion.

It makes sense for Apple to have a Mac App Store. I just figured they wouldn’t upset the status quo of obtaining software straight from developer’s websites. The truth is, after reading many developers’ tweets, is that markets change. The Mac App Store won’t be the only way to get Apps on your Mac (for now), but Apple says it will be the best.

That’s not hard to imagine. Their preview of the Mac App Store looks slick, and installation and updating Apps is as simple as iOS. This will be a big hit with users, who want simple.

I am a bit concerned about copy-protected apps. It even bothers me a bit on iOS. Copy-protection schemes always make me uncomfortable, especially when they come back to bite users.


Launchpad is a full screen grid of all your apps. They can be organized into separate home screens or grouped into iOS-like folders. It is very much the iOS 4 home screen brought to the Mac desktop.

Mission Control

Apple is unifying the abilities of Dashboard, Exposé, Spaces, and full-screen apps into a new feature called Mission Control. You navigate between different areas through swipe gestures. Looks like a great convergence and unification of already great features.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion is slated to ship by the end of Summer 2011.

A MacBook and an iPad Hook Up…

Apple introduced a redesigned MacBook Air today, at 13.3- and 11.6-inch screen sizes. Apple bills it as the future of notebooks. The goal was to bring many great features of the iPad to MacBooks. These include “instant on,” great battery life, amazing standby time, and solid state storage (SSD).

Apple’s new MacBook Air boots in about 15 seconds, and has a 5-hour (11.6-inch) and 7-hour (13.3-inch) battery under normal use. Both models have a standby time of 30-days.

There isn’t an optical drive (though you can connect one via USB) nor a hard drive. Instead, Apple uses SSD for storage, just like its iPods, iPads, & iPhones.

The price ranges from $99 to $1,599, depending on model. I bet it goes higher if you customize the order.

The thing I love about the MacBook Air? The media on which its reinstallation software is stored. It’s a little Apple-branded USB drive.

MacBook Air USB Reinstallation Drive

I hope Lion comes on one of these instead of a DVD.


The new iPhoto looks compelling. I’ve been experimenting with Aperture, but I’m just not falling in love with it.

The Mac App Store dropped my jaw a little, more so because I didn’t think Apple would actually do it. But it makes a lot of sense. I imagine it will be great.

Lion looks amazing. I can’t wait until next summer.

The MacBook Air doesn’t thrill me much, but I am excited to see how it will influence the MacBook Pro line.

All in all, great event. The only disappointment was we didn’t see more of Lion.


I checked my site stats this morning to see a rather unusual metric — 3,200 page views in the span of a few moments, while unique visitors remained at a normal, more rational number. I then checked to see which content was being viewed, and lo and behold, it was the login screen to the admin of my site!

Then I checked the access log to see that all the attempts were from a single IP located in Turkey (using Firefox on Win XP, at that). I’ve since blacklisted that IP from ever being able to view my site, and made a more unique path to my login page, since I’m the only one who needs it.

The attacker was unable to gain access to my site largely in thanks to 1Password. If you’re the kind of person who uses the same password for everything, you either desperately need 1Password or would not be interested in it at all. Trust me, you should be the former.

I used to rely on only two rather weak passwords for everything. As of a couple years ago, I jumped on 1Password’s bandwagon (thanks to my good friend Samantha) and now have a unique complex password for every site I use. 1Password keeps track of all of them, and is easy to use with its browser plugin. And I always have my passwords handy thanks to the 1Password iOS app.

Your identity (and bank account!) is so important. Don’t trust it to feeble passwords. Get 1Password, because it is awesome.

P.S. Also a major hat tip to my host, Squarespace for their awesome stats, logs, and IP filters. Love you guys.

Sparrow is a Refreshing Rethink of Mail

I mentioned the other day Bjango’s philosophy of the best method to design a desktop app is to imagine you’re building them for iOS. Well, it looks like there are some like-minded developers out there looking to rethink the Mac email client.

Sparrow is definitely taking cues from not only the iPad’s Mail app, but also a highly popular Mac Twitter client — Tweetie. Sparrow currently only works for Gmail accounts, but it looks like integration with Yahoo! Mail, MobileMe, and other IMAP providers.

Sparrow is a very compelling email client. It has a minimalist approach initially, showing just a Tweetie-style accounts and mailbox sidebar and an iOS-style message list. However, you can click a button and expand the window to show a preview pane.

If you don’t use the preview pane, you’ll notice that the app has a lavish amount of Core Animation. Double click a message and it ghosts in. Close the message, and it fades away with a subtle zoom. Same thing happens when open the app’s preferences.

Even though the app is currently in beta, it really feels like something right out of Cupertino. I would love to see Apple revamp Mac OS X’s Mail app like this.

Sparrow is a free download for now, though the developers would be crazy not to charge for this at the time of final release.

Go ahead and give it a whirl.

Pages Gets Friendly with iBooks

Apple’s iWork ‘09 suite received a software update today addressing some bugs in all three apps. Pages, however, has a new feature hidden amongst those bug fixes — Export to ePub. 

ePub is the eBook format that Apple is using for its iBooks app on iOS. Now, anyone with iWork ‘09 can turn a document into an ePub file for use as a DRM-free book that they can distribute themselves, or presumably upload to iTunes for inclusion in the iBookstore. 

Pages certainly isn’t the only tool out there capable of doing this, but it’s a nice feature for iWork users. 

Apple has also provided a support document for advising when an ePub or PDF is better suited for your document, and how to go about creating that ePub.

Twitterrific 3: Sharper, Leaner, & Universal

With many major iOS related launches, The Iconfactory is usually present with one of their flagship brands — Twitterrific. Back in July 2008, Twitterrific 1.0 was one of the first apps available on day one of the App Store; Twitterrific for iPad was there for the iPad’s launch; and Twitterrific 3 decided to tag along for the launch of iPhone 4 and the Retina display.

Now if you already have Twitterrific for iPhone, or Twitterrific Premium for iPhone, you can stop clicking “Check for updates” as those versions of the app no longer exist in the App Store. Instead, The Iconfactory elected to combine the new iPhone app with the existing iPad app to simplify development and avoid customer confusion.

This does mean for owners of Twitterrific Premium that this is a paid upgrade if you want the Premium features. I bought Twitterrific Premium 1.0 on day one of the App Store in 2008. When 2.0 arrived, I enjoyed a free update. Now, with 3.0, the universal iPad and iPhone app is free, supported with advertising, and a $4.99 in-app purchase will take away ads and unlock multiple accounts.

If you have an iPad and had previously bought the iPad’s in-app purchase, you simply have to update your iPad app, which now includes the universal iPhone interface, install it on your iPhone, and tap the Buy button for the in-app purchase, and as long as you are using the same iTunes Store account, it will unlock it for free.

Now, why not just stick with Twitterrific 2? Well, Twitter is turning off basic authentication for logging in at the end of August, and switching to OAuth for logging in. This means any app that isn’t using OAuth, such as Twitterrific 2, will no longer work after the cutoff date. But this is just one reason to upgrade.

Here’s a list of reasons to upgrade:

  • Universal application for iPhone & iPad
  • Greatly simplified, easier to use interface
  • Full OAuth support
  • Complete landscape support (new to iPhone)
  • Optimized for Apple’s new retina display
  • Supports fast app switching in iOS 4
  • Increased API calls per hour
  • Supports both official & old-style re-tweets
  • Twitter list support
  • Save Twitter-based searches
  • Expanded media upload services
  • Custom media upload support
  • Improved color-coding of tweets
  • VoiceOver accessiblity
  • Inline picture viewing
  • Reply to all

My impressions? It takes serious stones to scrap all the features from your app and only add back the absolutely necessary ones. But the results are a lean, fast, and easy to use iPhone app. If you are the kind of user who wants everything under the sun including the kitchen sink you may want to look elsewhere.

But if you want a great reading and composing experience you’ll love the new Twitterrific. I honestly believe there is something to be said about a minimalistic app that just brings the essentials to the twitter experience. I think new users will especially love Twitterrific, as a flood of features in other twitter apps can be intimidating. Also, being optimized for iPhone 4’s Retina Display, Twitterrific is absolutely stunning to look at.

I applaud The Iconfactory for taking such a drastic overhaul of their flagship iPhone app, which combines the best and brightest features of Twitterrific 2, and the elegant simple interface from the original iPhone app.

Twitterrific for iPhone and iPad is available as a free download in the App Store, with a $4.99 in-app purchase to remove ads and enable multiple accounts.