Report: Next Apple TV will go up against Amazon Echo →

Jordan Novet at VentureBeat:

Apple is working on its answer to Amazon’s Echo, the voice-activated assistant packaged inside a speaker, but it may come in the form of a refreshed Apple TV, rather than a new hardware product, VentureBeat has learned.

The company will build on its enhancements to the Apple TV announced last year, which brought the Siri virtual assistant to the set-top box. A new version of the Apple TV will solve problems with the existing box and remote control, a source familiar with the matter claims.

“They want Apple TV to be just the hub of everything,” the source told VentureBeat.

While an improved Siri experience on the Apple TV would be nice, the idea that the Apple TV could evolve into an always-ready assistant misses the mark for me.

Why should a home assistant be tied to the television? I can put an Echo in my bedroom or even outside on the porch, where I don’t have TVs. Even if I had a TV in the kitchen where my Echo sits today, I wouldn’t want it on all the time just so I can ask Siri a question.

The Echo is perfectly suited to be in the kitchen, where every day tasks making interacting with a phone or watch more difficult. From what I’ve heard from other Echo users, I’m not alone in thinking that.

I just don’t buy this being a viable product strategy, and I hope Apple doesn’t either.

New MacBook Pro rumored →

MacRumors’ Husain Sumra, quoting KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo:

While long overlooked, the MacBook line is the brightest spot for Apple’s 2016 rollouts. This is particularly true of the two new MacBook Pro models, to be introduced in 4Q16, as they will have a thinner and lighter form factor, Touch ID, use OLED display touch bar (to replace physical function keys, located above the keyboard) and adopt USB-C / Thunderbolt 3.

Sumra goes on to write that the new machine will be offered in 13-inch and 15-inch configurations, as they are now. The addition of Touch ID would be a welcome one, but that OLED “display touch bar” is a more interesting tidbit. Several PC vendors ship softkeys for things like volume, screen brightness and media control, but this could prove to be even more flexible. For example, how many keyboard are still out there with a Dashboard button instead of one for Launchpad? If Siri is coming to the Mac, even my new Magic Keyboard would assumedly be out of date.

Additionally, if these buttons are just software, perhaps users could map custom things to certain areas. How great would it be to be able to hit something like Spotlight or ~/Dropbox with a single stroke?

The report also includes this passage:

The 12-inch MacBook will also be joined by a 13-inch MacBook, according to Kuo. The analyst believes that Apple will move forward with all three MacBook lines this year, with the MacBook Pro occupying the high-end slot, the MacBook will replace the Air as the medium-level model and the MacBook Air will serve as an entry-level model with comparatively low prices.

This feels right to me. I wonder if an entry-level Air would still come with both 11.6- and 13-inch displays, or if the larger Air will meet its end this year. Returning to a lineup where the cheapest machine has the smallest screen would be simpler and easier to understand.

Whatever happens, the rumored Q4 date for this MacBook Pro is worrisome. While the current MacBook Pro is still a good machine, Apple still hasn’t been able to get Skylake machines out the door. It’d sure be nice to see that change.

The iMac clones 

The iMac G3’s design earned praise from many in the industry, with two companies so impressed they attempted to copy it with their own products.

Daewoo and Future Power announced a computer called the ePower. The blue, rounded, all-in-one design would look familiar, as this image shows:

ePower PC

In 1999, PC brand eMachines joined the race and released the eOne, a desktop computer that attempted to copy the success of Apple’s then-new iMac by using some blue plastic of the Mac’s all-in-one design.

eOne PC

Apple sued eMachines and Future Power over trade dress, stating that the computer’s design was too close to that of the iMac’s. The assumption is that these companies wanted consumers to buy a product based on attributes found in another. I’m not sure if any one was actually confused by the differences between the machines, but Apple wasn’t having any of it. Here’s Steve Jobs:

There is an unlimited number of original designs that eMachines could have created for their computers, but instead they chose to copy Apple’s designs. We’ve invested a lot of money and effort to create and market our award-winning computer designs, and we intend to protect them under the law.

Future Power settled with Apple, but continued to ship all-in-one machines. Likewise, eMachines was allowed to sell a redesigned all-in-one computer. In short, the courts ruled that this was a color-scheme issue, as US District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled:

There are many ways in which modern lines, bright colors and translucent plastics might be combined in the design of a personal computer. Any of these combinations is available to Apple’s competitors, so long as the combination selected is not so similar in appearance to the iMac as to infringe on Apple’s trade dress rights.

Of course, neither company is in business today.

Apple shows off revamped San Francisco store →

Jim Dalrymple:

It’s not often that Apple invites journalists to its stores for a preview anymore, but today was a bit different. Apple not only unveiled its new San Francisco store, it also explained its new strategy for its major retail outlets.

As I sat listening to Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, it became clear very quickly that Apple kept its attention to detail in the design of the location, but completely rethought how it functioned.

On Siri’s OS X supposed look and feel →

Juli Clover at MacRumors, discussing Siri’s appearance in the yet-announced OS X 10.12:

In the menu bar, there’s a simple Siri black and white icon that features the word “Siri” surrounded by a box, while the full dock icon is more colorful and features a colorful Siri waveform in the style of other built-in app icons. Clicking on either of the icons brings up a Siri waveform to give users a visual cue that the virtual assistant is listening for commands, much like on iOS devices when the Home button is held down.

I dig the Dock icon, but I sure hope that menu bar icon is still a placeholder.

BREAKING: WebObjects is still dead →

Kif Leswing at Business Insder:

On an Apple listserv on Tuesday, Java developer Hugi Thordarson emailed a blast saying that Apple had confirmed to him that WebObjects was officially declared dead.

He wrote (emphasis added):

In the past years I’ve regularly sent letters to [Apple CEO] Tim Cook, asking about the state of WO (being the naggy guy I am) and recently, I was contacted by Apple executive relations regarding my questions. The guy I spoke to called a couple of times, at first, he had absolutely no idea what WO was but the second time he called, he had obtained information and had a clear statement: “WebObjects is a discontinued product and will never be upgraded.”

WebObjects made it first appearance in 1995 as NeXT’s server-side web application framework. Initially written in Objective-C, WebObjects has run on top of Java as of version 5. It made the transition to Apple, where it has slowly faded away. The price plummeted over the years, eventually being a free download.

With OS X Snow Leopard, Apple decoupled WebObjects updates from OS X Server releases, and its been eight years since the company has released a public update for the software.

By all accounts, Apple is the biggest user of WebObjects left. It still powers part — if not much — of the iTunes and App Stores, as well as Apple’s online store.

My guess is that this isn’t changing anytime soon, but rather this statement is a continuation of Apple’s policy since 2009. Apple’s still using and working with it internally, but anyone else still on the bandwagon had better be looking for a way off.

In other words, I don’t think there’s anything new to report here. But hey, putting Steve Jobs in a headline has to be good for clicks, right?

On iTunes Ping 

With rumors of an Apple Music refresh making the rounds, there’s been a fresh crop of iTunes Ping jokes.

So, let’s talk about Ping.

Introduction & History

Announced as part of iTunes 10 in September 2010, Ping was a music-oriented social network.1

Steve Jobs introducing Ping

Steve Jobs highlighted the features during the keynote:

Follow your favorite artists and friends to discover the music they’re talking about, listening to and downloading.

Ping was built into the sidebar in iTunes 10. Opening it would reveal a new UI within iTunes that looked like a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Posts from people you were following would appear, alongside Top 10 Charts built specifically from what people and musicians you were following were downloading from the iTunes Store. Concert information could be viewed as well if you were viewing an artist’s page; if you were viewing a friend’s page, you could see what concerts they had expressed interest in attending.

Ping was also included in a new pane on the right-hand side of the UI. This sidebar showed a mini feed of the recent activity of the people and musicians you were following. If the song that was currently playing was by an artist on Ping, their latest activity would load in at the top. Songs could be liked and shared as well.

Here’s a video of Jobs giving a demo of iTunes Ping:

(iTunes Ping showed up on the iPhone and iPod touch as well, but Jobs didn’t really show that off.)

Launch & Response

At first, it seemed to take off, according to Apple:

“One-third of the people who have downloaded iTunes 10 have joined Ping,“ said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of Internet Services. “As many more people download iTunes 10 in the coming weeks, we expect the Ping community to continue growing.”

However, problems soon arose. While it was included in the demo given by Apple, Facebook support was removed from Ping shorlty after launch. Here’s Kara Swisher:

When I asked Jobs about that, he said Apple had indeed held talks with Facebook about a variety of unspecified partnerships related to Ping, but the discussions had gone nowhere.

The reason, according to Jobs: Facebook wanted “onerous terms that we could not agree to.”

[…]
Jobs did not elaborate on those troublesome terms and also would not say if Ping would incorporate Facebook Connect–which would make it much easier to find friends to share music with.

“We could, I guess,” he shrugged.

Instead, users could search for friends via name or send them an email to invite them to join.

Ping was also flush with spam within the first several days of operation, as Eric Slivka wrote at MacRumors:

It’s been less than 24 hours since Apple released iTunes 10 and its integrated social networking functionality, Ping, but spammers and scammers are already starting to spread their messages via the service. The first major instance appears to be a “free iPhone” scam that has seen multiple accounts posting replies to entries from a number of the most popular music artists currently using Ping.

While it shouldn’t be a surprise that spammers would seize upon any opportunity to get their links in front of a large number of people, Ping’s linkage to the iTunes Store would at first glance appear to make things more difficult for spammers, who would need to create verified iTunes accounts before spamming.

Then there’s this:

Whoops.

Not a Bang, But a Whimper

All of this added up to a pretty bad first impression being left on iTunes users. I know I quickly learned to navigate around Ping when using iTunes. Mercifully, iTunes 10.1 — released 2 months after Ping launched — Apple included a toggle to disable Ping.

After that, the service stagnated quickly, and Apple quietly shuttered the service just two years after launch.

Legacy

iTunes Ping is the first example that is quoted when making comments that Apple just doesn’t understand social media. I think that’s a fair point, and I don’t think Apple’s made big strides in the right direction since flipping the switch on the Ping servers in 2012.

While Apple Music doesn’t include a full-fledged social network like Ping, the Connect tab in the app sure feels like Ping’s successor. It’s rumored to survive the impending changes to Apple Music, but I find that a little surprising, as it’s failed to gain steam.

Either way, the mashup of Beats, iTunes and the iOS Music app has resulted in something that’s pretty messy. Will Apple learn from this lesson, and from the lessons of Ping? Can the company let a music player just be a music player?


  1. This is also the event where the Apple TV went from a big silver box that only sorta worked to the 720p-capable black hockey puck form factor. Feels likes forever ago. 

Apple Music rumored to receive WWDC overhaul →

Bloomberg:

Apple is altering the user interface of Apple Music to make it more intuitive to use, according to people familiar with the product who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public. Apple also plans to better integrate its streaming and download businesses and expand its online radio service, the people said. The reboot is expected to be unveiled at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The changes will be accompanied by a marketing blitz to lure more customers to the $10-per-month streaming service. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

I don’t think there’s much denying that Apple Music is a bit of a mess. It’s hard to tell where the lines are between it and iTunes Match. The UI is confusing in places, and iTunes is … well … iTunes.

While I don’t use the service anymore, the UI in Music.app has been so infected by it, I’ve switched to using Cesium to play my local music on my iPhone. I hope Apple can reboot this thing and make it good. The company has such a long track record of good music products, it makes Apple Music even all the more painful to consider.