The Bigger Picture of a Small Thing

On March 9th, Apple announced the new MacBook. Odd naming conventions aside, the Internet’s reaction to it was largely irrational; the biggest complaints being the lack of ports and wondering what’s the point of such a device. Yes the MacBook will be available in the present, but it’s really geared towards setting the stage for the future - as was the case with the MacBook Air.

Going back a few years, the original Air was underpowered upon it’s 2008 release, as will be the new MacBook. Today, the Air is a fully functional notebook that can serve the needs of most people. It had set the stage for big changes such as the removal of a DVD drive, which later affected the Pro lineup. Today, it’s taken for granted that you don’t need a disc drive in your notebook and most people don’t complain.

In the same regard, the MacBook is the first step in stripping even more I/O ports and devices. If you’re not ready for that change now, no one is forcing the device down your throat. Take for example the 13-inch non-retina MacBook Pro still for sale. All the ports you currently need will likely still be available many years down the line.

And then there are the technical advancements required to produce the MacBook which are transposable towards the rest of the lineup. During the keynote, I found the reduced size of the logic board to be the most impressive aspect. Sure, not requiring a fan helps reduce the footprint, although we can expect a revision in the design of the MacBook Pro’s logic board for next year, leaving more room for batteries. A plus all across the board.

I mentioned the odd naming convention at the top of the post. Obviously I’m referring to the fact that the MacBook is lighter & smaller than the MacBook Air. Quite a head scratcher if you ask me. This makes me believe, to many people’s chagrin, that we may never see a retina display on MacBook Airs because they will reach end-of-life within 2 years. I’m predicting this was the last revision to the Air lineup. Next year they will sell-off what is left and then the MacBook family will be trimmed-down to the MacBook (effectively replacing the Air as the “ultrabook”) and MacBook Pro, for those who need the ports and more power.

Image source: iDownloadBlog

BlackBerry CEO Gives His Take on Net Neutrality →

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users.

It is definitely a unique interpretation of net neutrality, however he doesn’t have much to lose at this point. The turnaround of such an adoption would be slow and I don’t think that’d give BB enough time with Samsung’s possible acquisition of BB just around the corner.

Mac App Store Serving Dated Software

It’s come to my attention that the versions of many apps in the Mac App Store are behind their latest releases outside the App Store. A certain delay is understandable, giving Apple the time to review changes and such before accepting the new release. Some however are multiple releases behind, resulting in months of updates which users aren’t getting. These updates can range from “superfluous” visual changes, to new features and more importantly security fixes.

I found this odd and tried to seek more answers but interestingly enough, not much is written on the subject. I was only successful in retrieving an article written by Computerworld in 2011 about the Opera browser.

Under the presumption that the App Store was introduced on the Mac in order to offer the same ease of use as its iOS counterpart in regards to finding and updating software (aside from the financial cut Apple takes), the current situation defeats the purpose.

If it’s possible to download a piece of software from the App Store as well as from the developer’s official site, there is a good chance that the one you’ll get from the App Store is outdated in comparison to the other. With most apps downloaded outside the App Store having built-in “Check for updates…” and/or auto-update functions, I’d recommend getting your software from the official site instead of the App Store if the developer gives the option.

Apple Releases iMessage Deregistration Tool →

I wonder what took them so long.

Password Haven

It’s no secret that people don’t like passwords. They should be long and complicated to be worth anything and these days, we just have so many. How should we manage them? Some may find one good one that they like and use it everywhere (please don’t do that). The old-school user may have them all written down in a booklet kept in a physical safe. Retrieving that booklet and transcribing each password by hand may quickly become tedious if you find yourself having to enter passwords multiple times a day. What do you do if you are away with no access to said booklet but still need one of the passwords found inside?

Password managers have become the acceptedrecommended approach” to password management. Not only can they keep them safe for you, but most password managers will generate random strings for you to use as passwords; saving you the trouble of having to come-up with a new one each time. I myself have been using the open source KeePass format for almost 2 years now, only recently figuring out the best way to go about it.

Before settling down, I gave some of the commercial offerings a try though. More specifically, Dashlane and 1Password. Both of these services are well regarded and offer a relatively close feature parity once you’ve payed a recurring subscription or bought a license, respectively. A bonus point to both of these is the new TouchID integration with iOS for quick and safe access to your passwords. During the free trials however, I felt limited in the ways I could organize my passwords and the UI for both desktop and mobile interfaces let me down. They did look good, but Dashlane especially was functionally unintuitive. This led me to reconsider the big names and go back to my previous solution.

I had started using KeePass with KeePassX, a cross-platform port of the original KeePass written in Qt, while I was using Linux (Fedora, more specifically). Later, on OS X, I discovered MacPass and instantly fell in love with it because of its native look thanks to its use of the Cocoa API.

The other step was getting my passwords onto the iPhone. A simpler task if you use Android.

I was originally using BitTorrent Sync to get the keepass file to my phone and keep it in sync. As my list of passwords grew larger I became weary of the fact that I didn’t have a backup and that I had been keeping my *.key file right alongside my *.kdb file on the filesystem. Sure, an added password kept the encrypted database somewhat safe. But the aforementioned setup was bad practice and made me cringe. I thought for a while for what should be the best solution and recently came-up with the following:

The *.kdb database is put in Dropbox. Already encrypted using AES-256, I feel safe leaving it there with Dropbox’s 2-factor authentication turned on (I recommend you do so for any service you use that supports it). I originally wanted to keep using Copy to sync the file, but they didn’t offer 2-factor. The key file itself is placed in a SpiderOak shared folder. The reasoning for this is two-fold:

  1. It doesn’t keep all the eggs in the same basket.
  2. It’s a way to get a copy of the database and key file onto the phone all while keeping a third backup safe.

Lastly, once the rest is taken care of, MiniKeePass is used to view the database on the iPhone. It’s a little app that does the job. Due to the iPhone’s limitations, it becomes somewhat of a hassle if you want to edit the database on the phone and save the changes. So I just use it as read-only. Android users should have no problem using the database in read-write on their phones.

The solution is not perfect, requiring more work than other alternatives. However, passwords have been giving me less of a headache ever since I’ve implemented this setup into my workflow and with my recent changes, have never felt safer.

Reboot to AirDrop

With the recent update to OS X Yosemite, it’s now possible to send files via AirDrop between Mac and iOS devices. With the sudden need to do so, I went ahead and enabled AirDrop on the iPhone and expected my devices to see each other. Alas, no such luck. All the info pointed out on the internet simply says to enable the service and you should be good to go.

If you encounter this problem as well, the good old “did you try turning it off and on again” does just the trick.

Windows 10 Is a Step in the Right Direction

Earlier this week, Microsoft officially gave the public a first look(video) at its new operating system. Focused primarily on enterprise features for the time being, many of the announced changes will still affect commercial users.

The biggest change is probably the step back they took regarding the Metro UI (or whatever it’s called now) on the desktop (or other device without a touchscreen). I was never a fan of Metro on the desktop, even though I thought it was a decent interface for touch devices. If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet in that last few years, you’ll know I’m not alone with this sentiment. It’s also a major reason why Windows 8 adoption has been slow, especially in the enterprise. This change is Microsoft admitting that they were wrong, listening to the feedback they received, and finding a better implementation of their vision for the future of their operating system. Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been.

Without a doubt, the new start menu and windowed Metro apps on the desktop alone will surely make Windows 10 to Windows 8 what 7 was to Vista. Users won’t be forced between interfaces optimized for different use cases. All the while, touch devices will retain the tiles and full-screen apps. Hybrid devices will benefit of both interface designs depending on current usage. It’s bound to be great way to make users feel at home with their computing devices, which ever it might be - keeping at the same time a common underlying system for compatibility and facilitating mass software distribution across a vast horizontal gamut of devices.

Windows 8 left me disappointed but 2 years later its to-be successor already has me excited, and that’s a good thing.

Name Your Way to Fame

It’s come to my attention that the most popular mobile devices are the ones with constant branding across generations. The two examples in question are the iPhone and Galaxy line of products. Is it the name that makes or breaks a product or is it simply coincidence?

It’s hard to argue that brand recognition, beyond the manufacturer, doesn’t go a long ways when it comes to the consumer. In the event that someone wants to designate a new device that his friend is holding, he might recognize certain traits and ask if is the new “iPhone/Galaxy”. There is a good chance in this case that the owner of said device replies with a simple “Yes actually, it is”. This exchange pleases the owner in that his phone was recognizable all the while the querier could feel proud of his technological knowledge.

Now lets take another popular flagship phone, the HTC One and run the same exchange between both friends. The person may say “That looks like a nice phone. It says HTC on the back, what model is it?”. The owner may then proceed in answering that it’s the One and may leave it at that depending on his own knowledge on the subject. This particular example’s problem is two-fold. Firstly, One is a terrible name for almost any product if it’s not the first in the lineup (see Playstation 1 vs Xbox One), the HTC One is no exception. It seems to be an especially popular name since 2012-2013 with tech products but causes confusion more than anything else for the unknowing consumer. The manufacturer obviously designates the meaning of all-encompassing, single go-to device and not the numerical value but that distinction may not always be obvious. Secondly, the HTC One is on its second year bearing the same name, yet it’s not the same device. Worst more, in 2012 HTC release a whole lineup of devices bearing the One moniker (see One V, One S, One X) only to release a single One (M7) in 2013 followed by One (M8) in 2014. Getting confusing pretty quick isn’t it? Besides the geek crowd that follow tech websites religiously, people wouldn’t know that the 2013 model was the M7 and that the 2014 model was the M8. Hell, I don’t even know what those appended suffixes mean besides that they’re used to “differentiate” the models.

Going back to our friends above, the querier may go to the store the next day and ask to see the HTC One, unknowing that there are more than one One’s. The M7 and M8 may be too similar for him to even tell the difference and could cause confusion. At this point he might start doubting himself, feeling frustrated towards technology. This is not the kind of experience a company wants its potential customers to have.

I talked a lot about HTC but they are not the only ones. Sony, for example, has had trouble in my opinion naming their products in a proper way for a few years as well. What does HTC and Sony’s mobile devision have in common today? They are both reporting millions in losses1,2 . It’s not that they make bad phones, far from it. It comes back to being able to “talk” to the consumer with the least words possible. Making them feel like they already know your product even if they’ve never owned one. Resulting in a feeling of familiarity that may more easily lead to a purchase.

Everyone knows that every year a new Galaxy S phone comes out with an incrementing numerical value at the end. People also expect a yearly iPhone release, following a tick-tock cycle. This is simple for consumers to understand. People only know in limited quantities about Samsung’s other smartphone adventures. Sony, until recently with its Z flagship line, didn’t follow a particular naming convention for it’s Xperia lineup; appending T, SL, J E, V, SP and other letters to the name. What do they mean? It isn’t clear and it becomes hard to know which is the new or better one, and which is the old one.

None of this answers the original question of course. A proper, thorough, study would need to be made. I wanted to raise the point however as I’ve yet to see anyone else mention it while on my web crawlings, nor in “real-life”. I find that intriguing. Product naming might not be the only cause of disappointing sales for different manufactures, but I’m sure that it is a common factor nonetheless.

1 Sony Increases Loss Forecast to $2.14 Billion
2 The first-quarter loss was $62 million, [HTC] said in a statement yesterday

Waiting for the Release to Drop

Owners of iOS devices await today for the next release (iOS 8) to be pushed to them.

There is a sense of excitement I haven’t had in a long time - awaiting for a software update to an operating system that I know everyone will receive more or less at the same time. It kind of sounds funny put that way.

My previous phone didn’t have that novelty though. Instead I found myself scavenging forums for the latest Nightly releases of CyanogenMod or other flavour for over 3 years. It has its value, if you’re into that kid of thing. But the excitement wears-off after some time and it becomes a chore.

So I sit here waiting for my first iOS update. Something new is always welcome and geeks love new software. It reminds me of Linux distro upgrades in a sense.

Notch Leaves Mojang Following Microsoft Acquisition →

I don’t see myself as a real game developer. I make games because it’s fun, and because I love games and I love to program, but I don’t make games with the intention of them becoming huge hits, and I don’t try to change the world. Minecraft certainly became a huge hit, and people are telling me it’s changed games. I never meant for it to do either.

I’ve never played Minecraft on any platform since its release. I’m just not interested in that type of game. It would be hard to argue however that Minecraft hasn’t profoundly marked millions of gamers of this decade with its immense popularity.

Notch writes his open letter of resignation and humbly explains his decision, unveiling the human behind the internet persona.