Thoughts on the stagnation of iPad sales

Apple yesterday announced its Q2 2014 earnings. iPad sales were down almost 3M units from Q2 2013. According to Macworld.com:

Apple sold 16.35 million of the tablets this past quarter, compared to 19.48 million in the second quarter of 2013. Revenues from the iPad fell as well, from $8.7 billion to $7.6 billion. The iPad had a smaller impact on Apple’s revenues, too, accounting for 17 percent of sales, compared to 20 percent last year.

I have some thoughts on why that may have happened.

Last year, Apple announced the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display. While both have the new A7 chip, of the two I think the iPad mini with Retina Display is the more tempting upgrade if you own a previous gen iPad. This is because the previous mini did not have the retina display, and was a gimped model with a lower-specced processor. The new mini that actually had feature parity with the larger iPad was a nice upgrade.

The 64-bit processor in the new Air (and mini) is a great upgrade, but I don’t think enough people were taxing their iPads to the point they felt needed a faster processor if they already had a retina iPad. I’m not sure there is even enough RAM on the iPad to fully take advantage of the 64-bit chip. It also doesn’t have the Touch ID sensor, either, which could be a factor.

So, I think a lot of the sales are people who  are probably very happy with their iPad 3 or 4. I know I am. I need the iPad with the largest memory, so I’m on a 2–3 year upgrade cycle on my iPad.

Jean-Louis Gassée had a great article called: The iPad is a Tease

Despite the inspiring ads, Apple’s hopes for the iPad overshot what the product can actually deliver. Although there’s a large numbers of iPad-only users, there’s also a substantial population of dual-use customers for whom both tablets and conventional PCs are now part of daily life.

I see the lull in iPad sales as a coming down to reality after unrealistic expectations, a realization that iPads aren’t as ready to replace PCs as many initially hoped.

Gruber has his take here.

We might have overestimated the eventual role of tablets and underestimated the role of phones — and the whole argument is further muddled by the industry-wide move toward 5-inch-ish phone displays.

I’m not sure about this. A larger screen iPhone is certainly appealing to me. It would take place for a lot of the tasks I would consider a mini for, as long as the resolution also increases – I’d like my Kindle documents have more words on the horizontal size.

I wrote earlier this year that 2014 is the year of the iPad for me. That is largely playing out. Rarely does my MacBook Pro leave the house. My next OS X device will be an iMac. As iOS continues to mature, I will be able to put off buying a new Mac as long as this one keeps running. The largest barrier to going iOS all the time is games, and GigaOM’s WordPress install. Other than that, when I leave the house these days, I only need my iPad. I can write, post to this site, surf, read, and even play some games (just not World of Warcraft).

I’m expecting to get another full year out of my iPad 3. By September 2015, this one will be getting long in the tooth and require replacement. I expect that to be why iPad sales are down. Now that the product has matured, there’s no need to upgrade every year.

Apple does the unexpected; opens OS X betas to everyone

I will admit, I did not see this one coming. Apple announced on April 22, 2014 that they are now allowing anyone with an Apple ID, and is 18 years of older, to participate in their beta program. Previously, this required an Apple Developer Account ($99/year). Now, it’s free, as in beer.

I think this is a great idea. Personally, I’ve been in the iOS and OS X developer programs solely for research. As a freelancer specializing in Apple products, I needed to be comfortable with the new OSs before launch to write about the new features. Now, at least, I don’t have to worry about the OS X program.

When I reached out to Apple PR about their motives, they declined to comment. My uneducated guess is that Apple needed more feedback on beta releases than they were getting from the developer pool. I know that the betas leading up to a GM get a lot of testing from developers, but I don’t know about the dot relases. This could also be a general security issue since betas for the new versions of OS X usually hit the torrent sites. That’s not a good way for people to get their hands on operating systems.

How it works is pretty straightforward. You sign up and download a DMG file which has a MavericksBetaAccessUtility.pkg file in it. Installing this allows he prerelease iTunes 11.1.6 and OS X 10.9.3 betas to be downloaded from the Mac App Store. What is not explicitly stated is whether this will still be in place when the beta for OS X 10.10 starts this summer. There is an FAQ here, but it’s a little vague on how forthcoming betas will be handled. I think that 10.10 will be included. At least, I hope it is. A concern, however, is that the DMG and the PKG file say “Mavericks” and not “OS X”. So, it’s possible this is only for Mavericks. We will see in two months.

My next question is whether this will be available on iOS. I am split on this, and the 51% of me thinks it will not be. OS X has a much smaller install base than iOS. It’s also easier to recover your Mac from a bad beta than your iPhone. Also, you download the files for iOS betas from the developer page; not the iOS App Store.[1] Were Apple to introduce free iOS betas, they would include it in the free developer accounts. You’d have to pay to use iTunes Connect. This would also eliminate the selling of device provisions that generally drive Apple nuts.


  1. Technically, you also do this for the OS X betas, but once you’ve entered in a reclamation code, the beta software appears in the App Store.  ↩

Hands-on: Scrivener 2.0

The iPad forced Scrivener, a great Mac writing app, out of my workflow. I’ve been using various writing tools for the iPad pretty much exclusively, and there wasn’t a need for Scrivener in the process. Now, new features introduced in version 2.0 have earned Scrivener its place back.

Big Feature Number 1: Sync with External Folder

This feature alone was worth the $25 upgrade fee. As you’d expect, it lets you, well, sync with an external folder. The intent here is for you to use a service like Dropbox as your sync folder, although you don’t have to. When you sync a Scrivener project it creates subfolders with the bits that make up a project — a Scrivener project isn’t a single file like a Word (s msft) document; instead it’s a package made up of  files — be it text files as part of the manuscript, or images or PDFs for your research.

When you set this project to sync, it’ll create subfolders for all those nested bits, and you can edit them on any computer that has access to that folder and can edit the text files. This is a fantastic feature for use with iPad editing tools. I’ll export all my current projects to Dropbox. When I edit the project on the iPad, it’ll auto-sync when I open the project up in Scrivener. Also, text files created in the sync folder will auto import. All my TAB stuff goes into one project, so if I create a new article on the iPad, it’ll get imported. This feature is also very handy if you’re collaborating on a project with another Scrivener user.

Big Feature Number 2: Create E-books

Creating an e-book from your work has been somewhat challenging up until now. Open-source tools like Sigil can create e-books, but my experiences with it showed me it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s probably not something the average writer is likely to want to deal with. When Apple recently introduced ePub exporting in Pages, I felt it was the first e-book creation tool average users can work with. Now, Scrivener can create both ePub and Mobi-formatted books.

I haven’t played with this feature much other than to export a project and view it on my iPad and Stanza (s amzn) in OS X, but, it worked, and looked quite good. I did notice the iPad was a little more font-sensitive than Stanza (it didn’t see all the font overrides I set in Scrivener). Using the supplied novel template I also noticed that the table of contents were auto created.

I haven’t tried to send a compiled e-book off to one of the self-publishing services, so I have no idea how well that aspect works.

Not-so-big Features

Better Academic Usage

My experiences using Scrivener for academic work were frustrating. While it was great at storing research, getting Scrivener to bend to MLA formatting just wasn’t worth the hassle. Now, Scrivener includes templates for MLA and other academic standards. There are also now presets for things like block quoting that really help alleviate some of the frustration of formatting.

Also greatly improved is footnoting. Footnotes (and comments) now appear in the Inspector rather than in-line. The combination of these two improvements makes Scrivener a more appealing tool for student use.

Better Outlining

Most of my work doesn’t involve outlining. That said, there are some impressive new additions to outlining in Scrivener. The biggest one for me is custom columns. I live or die by word counts, and now the outline view can show the word count for all my drafts. I can also add columns for progress to a target word count, modified date, etc. This is especially handy for files like my TAB binder, which can become very congested.

Collections

This is going to be the feature I’m glad was included later, even though I don’t currently use it. Basically, collections let you grab scrivenings without changing their place in the overall structure. If you’re working on a large manuscript and you’ve identified scrivenings that are to be the focus of the day’s editing, you can drag those into a collection and not screw up their position. I haven’t figured if there’s a way to create a smart collection based on keywords. I can easily see using this as a to-do list.

Conclusion

Scrivener 2.0 was one of my most-anticipated upgrades this year. It hasn’t disappointed me. The folder sync feature is a boon to us iPad users and lets me use Scrivener as the Grand Central Terminal for my writing. The upgrade is $25 and the full version is $45. It’s a tremendous bargain for such an awesome writing tool.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Review

Azeroth is sundered! A dormant dragon awakens. A colony of dwarves lose their ancestral home and need a hobbit to get it back — oh wait, sorry, wrong fantasy series. While Cataclysm ($39.99) is World of Warcraft’s third expansion, the overall changes to the world make this more like WoW 2.0, or, at the least WoW 1.5. What’s nice is a lot of the changes will be available to all current subscribers, even if you don’t buy the expansion.

What You Get For Free

As part of the — wait for it — Cataclysmic event that sundered Azeroth, almost every area in the game has seen its geography change; the only unchanged areas are the ones from the previous two expansions. An ancient dragon, Deathwing, has risen from within the world, and his hatching effected something similar to the movie 2012, only with better acting.

Blizzard has also learned from past mistakes and greatly streamlined leveling your character. Previous quests involved a gigantic amount of running around for little reward; now the quest hubs are gathered closer together and the game does a much better job at guiding you along your path.

New Starting Areas

Blizzard has introduced two new races: the Worgen (a lyncanthropic race) and the Goblins (short little green men with a love of explosives). Each race receives their own new starting area for new characters, complete with new and improved beginner quest mechanics. Each starting area takes about 5-6 hours to complete before you can enter the main game.

Of the two new areas, I enjoyed the Goblin one the best. Blizzard does well when it lets its irreverence and sense of humor shine, and the Goblin area is lighthearted, fun, and full of explosives. The Worgen area is much more serious. You’re cursed to become a lycan and during the starting experience you’re fighting to take back your city. Which would you rather do: watch the game fight a huge battle for you (your involvement in this epic event is limited), or roast zombies on a pair of rocket boots? I’m going with rocket boots, every time.

The Worgen area also shows an odd lack of polish by Blizzard’s standards.  Usually when there’s an epic battle at the end of a quest line, the game shows a “next battle in 10 minutes” popup so you know you should hang around for a few, or maybe see what the baby has been crying about all this time. There isn’t one in the last battle for the Worgens, and it’s easy to get thoroughly confused about what you need to do.

Raised Level Cap and New High-Level Areas

Cataclysm raises the level cap from 80 to 85, and it’s a much shorter journey to max level than in previous expansions. We were seeing “server first” announcements for level 85s less than 24 hours into the expansion launch, and even with my slow-paced leveling my character was 85 in less than a week. Previous expansions took me several months to reach max level. Frankly, I wasn’t upset at how quickly it happened. I enjoy the game more without the need to grind out levels, and taking new characters through the revamped zones is keeping me occupied.

There are roughly seven new zones in Cataclysm, a slight reduction in the number of new areas usually included in a new expansion. I found two particularly notable: Vashj’ir is an entirely underwater area, and Uldum is basically the plot of the three Indiana Jones movies rolled into one quest line. In Uldum, Blizzard again shows its sense of humor, and it’s my favorite of the new areas.

One drawback to the new areas, though, is how Blizzard has phased the zones. In Wrath of the Lich King, the previous expansion, Blizzard introduced phasing as a way of having your adventure area change as you completed quests. A town might be intact during one part, but destroyed later on in the story.With Wrath, the phasing was limited to a couple of high-end zones. In Cataclysm, it’s much more prevalent. Unfortunately, if you’re not on the exact same point in the story as a friend, you won’t be able to play with them. A friend of mine and I were “out of phase” and it was simply because I had accepted two more quests than she had. As a result, Cataclysm is likely to feel a lot more like a single-player game than an MMO at times.

Playing Well With the Mac

Blizzard has always released its products simultaneously for Mac (s aapl) and Windows(s msft), and Cataclysm is no different. Since it’s a native build and not a port using Cider, it runs very well on the Mac. I played through the entire expansion using a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Nvidia (s nvda) 9400M chip, and even with that anemic graphics processor it ran very well. I experienced no crashes or unusual hangups, although the main cities can drag your frame rates down.

Verdict

I like that rather than tack on more “previously undiscovered” zones to the game, Cataclysm focuses on the continents that launched six years ago. Other MMOs (I’m looking at you, EverQuest) have added so many new areas, that it becomes a little ridiculous. The hard mode in Cataclysm dungeons, called Heroics, are indeed fairly hard and require more player skill to complete than players will be used to — Wrath’s Heroics were fairly tame and a lot of us got lazy.

Highs: Big changes to the WoW game world, for all players.

Lows: Phasing takes quite a bit of the multiplayer out of this MMO.

If you’ve got a character that can take advantage of the new high-level zones, Cataclysm is a lot of fun. But even if you’re not a current subscriber, this is one of the best times to start playing. With the revamped low-level requiring only an active subscription, and with lots of old players creating new characters, there’s a ton of new people running around to play with, which is the point after all.

Impressions of iOS 4.2

So, iOS 4.2 is finally here. This version finally brings all iDevices to the same version and feature level. I hope this parity continues with iOS 5. While iOS 4.2 is an update to every iOS device, I think it’s fair to say this update is more of an iPad than an iPhone update.

Since iOS4’s release this summer, iPads have been stuck running iOS 3.x. So, no multitasking, no folders, no fast app switching. On a device one hopes to use a mobile computing platform, this was a hinderance — especially the multitasking and fast app switching. Now, the iPad can do those things. Sure, it’s not the same multitasking, but it’s a big update.

On a daily basis, my iPad gets tons more use than my iPhone. I use it for e-mail triage, surfing, reference,  video watching, ebook reading and it’s my preferred way of reading RSS. I’ve never quite adopted the multiple display workflow, but my iPad is usually next to my MacBook doing something. Without fast app switching or multitasking, my iPad would often be stuck finishing one task while I wanted to do another.

Take Evernote, for example. My Evernote library is huge, and the main reason I spring for the Premium service is for offline storage on my iPad. I’m in the middle of a few projects where I’m storing research notes into Evernote. I recently dumped about 100mb of PDFs up in there. The subsequent download to Evernote for the iPad was painful. Now, with iOS 4.2, that sync would happen in the background. We’ve been seeing a slew of apps updated for iOS 4.2, so most of my apps now support the new features. I’m thrilled with the update. My iPad feels a ton snappier. I love that folders condensed five screens of apps to two rows.

Game Center, AirPlay and AirPrint I’m less thrilled about. I have never wanted or needed to print from iPad. Even when I’ve travelled, I haven’t had to print out a document since I was in England in 1999.

A while back I stated that almost everything I write in some way passes through the iPad. Recently, that’s changed from “almost everything” to “most things.” I’m writing more how-to instructions and their heavy reliance on screenshots pretty much leaves the iPad out of the running. I do have hopes some day of just grabbing my iPad and a keyboard and heading to Starbucks to see just how an iPad would hold up to a day of writing.

Elements for iPad Updated with Folders, Markdown Support

Two iPad apps that have been very near and dear to my writer’s heart: Elements and PlainText. They are two simple apps, that let me edit plain text files on a Dropbox folder — each app uses its own Dropbox folder, named Elements and Plaintext respectively. I’ve loved both, but PlainText was winning because it supported subfolders in its folder, which Elements lacked before this update.

Another writing tool I often take advantage of is Markdown, a sort of formatting shortcut language created by John Gruber. The lack of native support wasn’t a big deal for me. I already know most of the formatting commands so I could just enter them in by hand and preview them when I exported them.

The Markdown implementation is a little tricky. If you’ve created a file on the iPad, you’ll need to change the extension to .md, .markdown, .mdown or .mdwn. That will activate the Markdown preview button. It doesn’t appear to add any shortcuts for common Markdown elements, like #. It’s too bad since the need to access the secondary or tertiary on-screen keyboards can slow you down. If you are a heavy Markdown user, I recommend the excellent Edito iPad app.

Now that Elements supports both subfolders and Markdown in version 1.5, it just might become my iPad plain text editor of choice

 

Looking back on yesterday's presser

The way I see it, with the iPhone 4 antenna issue is there’s an existing (perceived or otherwise) that the antenna issue is the worst thing to hit the tech market since Windows ME. Apple’s response is needs to hit two key points: what we are going to do about existing users; and what we’re going to do about future models.

Apple’s giving out free cases solves the problem with the existing users. There was no way Apple was going to issue a recall.

Apple was hedgy on the future plans. During the Q&A Jobs said, “we’re keeping an eye on it.” Frankly, I didn’t expect much. The last thing Apple wants to do is get people to wait on a hardware revision.

I get the feeling people were thinking Jobs’s conference was addressed to users. I don’t think it was. This whole presser to me was directed squarely at Wall Street. Even the timing was for Wall Street; it was timed to be over before the market closed.

In full disclosure: I don’t have an iPhone 4. Due to when my contract expires, It’s unlikely I will ever own one — I’ll just get the iPhone 5. My statistical data is from a very small sample set. The two people I have talked with that own an iPhone 4 both have the signal drop issue.

Jobs went out of his way to explain this problem affects all cell phones. I’ve had my iPhone 3GS since March and I’ve never been able to replicate the problem. Once I heard about the problem I’ve gripped my iPhone every way imaginable and can’t make the problem happen.

I tend to believe Apple’s numbers on returns and calls to AppleCare are true, with one caveat — Jobs said 0.55% of all calls to the AppleCare line are about this issue. Now, you can really spin this: does this involve all calls to the AppleCare line, or just the iPhone 4 support line. If Apple is really spinning that number based on all calls to the AppleCare line (i.e. people calling in MacBook issues, etc.), that number affects a larger number than Apple is letting on. Update: Jobs indeed did say 0.55% of iPhone users. Nothing to see here.

Jobs went out of his way to denigrate the tech press. It was pretty clear he holds the tech press with disdain, and I don’t blame him; I hate us as well. The problem with the tech press it this: some site comes out with a half-sourced or patently false story. This story gets grabbed with “so and so is reporting that…” and then a major news site grabs the story, which then gets circulated with “so and so is confirming…” and when you track down the story line, the original story is one that won’t stand up to a basic fact check. Which then leads to “It’s not our fault; we’re bloggers, not journalists.”

I do believe this is issue — for whatever reason — has gotten blown way out of proportion in the press. I do not believe it’s the gigantic problem that it’s being lead to believe. Twenty four hours later, when I ask if I feel the presser was satisfactory, I’m inclined to say yes. Apple was addressing the existing issue. I would not be surprised to see this brought up again during the Apple September iPod Event.

Satire: My predictions for tomorrow's Apple presser

  1. Steve Jobs will show us the proper way to hold the iPhone.
  2. Apple will single out Brian Lam and say “this is why we can’t have nice things … or at least test phones.”
  3. They will give out free Bumpers to everyone, but they will be of the “purple polka-dot bikini” variety.
  4. Apple will blame AT&T saying, “their More Bars; More Places” advertising campaign was behind the code that was overly generous on reporting signal strength.
  5. Steve Jobs will say, “It’s not a big deal. People just don’t use phones anymore”

WWDC 2010 Predictions

iPhone News

  • New iPhone and OS 4.0 shipping imminently. It appears they are already ramping up production. I might even go out on a limb and say 4.0 will ship within a week of WWDC
  • AT&T to allow tethering
  • More tech details of 4.0

iPad News

  • Sales update
  • OS 4.0 new announcements: better file management, better iCal. Bluetooth tethering and greater bluetooth connectivity options, including 3rd party presenters tools, ability to manipulate Photo library, removal of iTunes initial sync requirement. Apple will begin marketing the iPad as a stand alone device.

Mac news

  • Sales update
  • Mac Pro refresh
  • No OS/X 10.7 details except “we’ve got great new things planned”

Cloud news

  • Apple will roll iWork.com out of beta with better collaboration tools
  • MobileMe syncing and cloud backup will be free for iDevices. Possible free MobileMe for Mail/Calendar. iDisk to remain premium.
  • Apple will begin to focus more on cloud storage and syncing.

App News:

  • Possible: new iWork and iLife with cloud storage.