Opinion: Google’s new Photos may just have won my library away from Apple

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Google Photos

My relationship with Apple’s hardware is simple: I’m happily locked in, and not changing platforms any time soon. But my relationship with Apple’s software is complex: I want to love it, but every time Apple decides to “throw everything away” and “start over” with an app, it’s disruptive — and for many users, unnecessary. From my perspective, users weren’t complaining that Apple’s popular photo apps iPhoto or Aperture were hopelessly broken or even deficient in major ways, yet Apple discontinued both of them last month to release Photos, a bare-bones alternative no one seems to love. On the relationship scale, I didn’t abandon Aperture; Aperture abandoned me (and a lot of other people).

So yesterday’s announcement of the free cross-platform photo and video storage app Google Photos couldn’t have come at a better time. Apple has struggled to explain why it now offers two separate photo syncing services, neither with the virtually unlimited photo and video storage Google is now giving users — notably all users, including Mac and iOS users. Moreover, Apple has offered no sign that it’s going to drop the steep fees it’s charging for iCloud photo storage. With WWDC just around the corner, Apple has a big opportunity to match Google’s photo and video initiative, thrilling its customers in the process. If that doesn’t happen, I’m moving my collection into Google Photos, and not looking back…

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Opinion: Here’s how Apple can solve its 3 big, persistent pre-order problems

Apple Store Down

If you’re reading this article, you already know Apple’s pre-order drill for major new releases: Apple announces a new product, says advance online orders will start at 12:01am on a specific day, and then — when most of its customers are either exhausted or groggy — re-opens its online store to a pent-up frenzy of reservations. Virtually every time, Apple’s most dedicated customers deal with delays and web site loading problems. Sometimes, even if their orders were placed in the first hour or two of sales, they may also face uncertainty over adequate supplies for launch day deliveries.

Despite Apple CEO Tim Cook’s suggestion that the Apple Watch rollout could not be going better, his customers have widely deemed it a disaster: some unlucky people who pre-ordered Apple Watches in the first 10 minutes still haven’t received anything a full month later. Meanwhile, a group of “luckier” people — notably including scalpers — have found ways to skip Apple’s pre-order lines, walking into boutiques such as Maxfield in Los Angeles, and buying bunches of the same Watches pre-orderers are still waiting for.

Sure, overwhelming demand for new products can be hard to manage, and business gurus tend to write this off as a “good problem” for any company to have. But at some point, that good problem becomes chronic, frequently dissatisfying customers, which is when it has officially become a “bad problem.” Whether he admits it or not, that’s the situation Tim Cook faces today. The good news is that he’s well-known as a supply chain genius, so if anyone’s capable of fixing the three key problems within Apple’s screwy pre-order system, it’s him. My hope is that discussing these issues — as well as solutions — will inspire the improvements Apple’s customers have been wanting for a long time…

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Opinion: Should AAPL stockholders be worried about Jony Ive’s more backseat role?

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The Apple world this morning seems divided between those who seemingly haven’t grasped the implications of Apple’s ‘promotion’ of Jony Ive, merely taking Cook’s memo at face value, and those switching into full-on ‘Apple is doomed’ mode. The reality is, I think, a little more nuanced.

It seems pretty clear that this move is, as Seth outlined earlier, about Ive taking more of a backseat role – and especially being able to spend a lot more time back in England. Apple’s decision to announce the news on a day when the US markets were closed was obviously not coincidence.

Apple didn’t want to see a knee-jerk panic reaction on Wall Street setting its stock diving. But is there reason to panic? Or is it all much ado about nothing? Or something between the two … ?  Read more

Opinion: One month later, fixing 15 early Apple Watch problems seems straightforward

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The Apple Watch had a rough launch: atypically critical reviews, extended shipping delays, and public skepticism surpassing the launches of the iPhone and iPad. But as I write these words, Apple is just beginning next-day shipments of the first Modern Buckle, Leather Loop, and Space Black Stainless Steel Apple Watches, which means that tomorrow will be the first day when the entire Apple Watch lineup is actually in (or on) consumers’ hands.

Since a month has passed since pre-orders opened, I wanted to revisit an article we published in early April — a summary of 15 user experience problems revealed by early Apple Watch reviewers. When the article was published, some people accused the reviewers of bias, but others saw the issues they identified as legitimate. Now that the “new product” dust has had ample time to settle, this follow-up article asks two questions: first, did each of the issues turn out to be real? Second, if each issue was legitimate, how should Apple solve it, if it hasn’t been solved already? The answers are actually worth discussing… 

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Opinion: The secret Apple Watch port should probably stay hidden… for now

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photo credit: iFixit

This weekend, my colleague Jordan Kahn broke the news that “accessory makers plan to tap Apple Watch’s hidden port for battery straps and faster charging,” which is entirely true based on already-expressed developer interest. There is indeed a six-pin port nestled inside one of the watch band recesses, completely covered with a metal panel to obscure its functionality. Unfortunately, Jordan’s story has been picked up elsewhere to support the claim that the hidden port will be “a goldmine for accessory makers.” I hate to take issue with these reports, as the concept — exploiting a hidden port to make new accessories — is exciting, but I have one word for people who are planning to build or buy accessories reliant upon that port:

Stop.

Stop before you spend $250 to order an accessory that might never arrive or work properly. Stop before you spend $250,000 to build an accessory that might never ship, or might ship and then stop working.

The Apple Watch is not the first Apple product with an undocumented connector. There’s a very good reason the hidden port is there — and it’s not for accessories. I’ll explain below…

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Opinion: Here’s why Apple won’t offer internal upgrades for the Apple Watch

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At the height of my Apple fandom, I purchased one of the company’s most iconic and quixotic designs: a used Power Mac G4 Cube, the beautiful floating computer Apple initially described as “revolutionary” before putting it on ice — Apple’s words — less than a year later. Like many other people, I had fallen in love with the Cube’s design the first time I saw it, but wouldn’t spend $1,800-$2,300 to own one. So I waited until the price fell significantly and bought it used on eBay.

Back then, I wondered why Apple had discontinued its “revolutionary” computer so quickly. And why it hadn’t opted to “reintroduce an upgraded model of the unique computer in the future,” as its discontinuation press release had suggested was possible. After rebuilding my Cube inside and out, I completely understood the answer: Apple and technology had both moved on. Old replacement parts were still available, but new parts were smaller, faster, and more reliable. Apple had effectively redesigned the Cube to become the more reasonably priced Mac mini, unsympathetically abandoning the original form factor because it had fundamental problems.

Just like every major new Apple product released over the past decade, the Apple Watch’s first-generation design will give way to a better second-generation design in the not-too-distant future. Recall that Apple discarded the first iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV enclosures after only a single generation, in each case making major design changes to address early concerns. So although some people have suggested otherwise, this means that there won’t be an “upgrade” program to swap the S1 core of the Apple Watch when the S2 is introduced. Instead, there will be a whole new watch designed to entice new customers, and remedy early adopters’ complaints…

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Soft launch: Why the Apple Watch isn’t getting the ‘blockbuster’ debut it deserves

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It’s no secret that Apple’s launch plan for the Apple Watch hasn’t gone as well as the original iPhone and iPad launches.

Extremely limited supplies have led to long wait times for pre-orders. The lineup of choices is so complex that the company needed to give people weeks to try them on in stores before they were supposed to be available. And the confusing online-only purchase process advertised in Apple’s retail stores didn’t initially disclose that stores won’t have any units in stock on launch day. No part of the process has thrilled potential customers.

Yesterday, Apple’s SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts sent an internal video memo to employees about the Apple Watch rollout in an attempt to help answer questions and assuage concerns about the many issues plaguing the launch, not the least of which is the lack of a “blockbuster launch” at retail outlets that customers and employees alike have come to expect from Apple. Some people took the video as an admission of guilt by Ahrendts. But although she may share responsibility for some of Apple’s missteps, she isn’t solely or even largely responsible for the issues.

Here’s where I believe things fell apart during this launch…

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Opinion: Don’t judge – Apple Watch accessories are supposed to be personal, not universal

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Over the past fifteen years, I’ve seen certain commenters pick the same fight literally every time Apple releases another device: “are accessories really needed for _____?” Fill the blank in with “iPod,” “iPhone,” “iPad,” “Apple TV,” or “Apple Watch” and you’ll see how the answer has eventually turned out to be “yes” every time. Even though I’ve tested virtually every type of Apple accessory out there, I couldn’t help but shake my head when companies first announced cases for the Apple TV’s remote control. Crazy, right? But there were eventually behind-TV mounts, Bluetooth keyboards, and universal remote controls that became truly handy for even Apple’s least-accessorized device.

Now the Apple Watch is coming, and despite Apple’s focus on its purely aesthetic customizability — including welcoming third-party band makers to the party — the “is this necessary?” comments are appearing again. “Nothing like a faux carbon fiber decal on your watch to convey your sense of good taste,” said one commenter, who separately opined that “every protective product listed here is the modern day equivalent of plastic-covered furniture.” To be honest, I personally agree with the first sentiment, but I’m not the target market for stickers. And I can still remember some people describing iPhone cases as plastic-wrapped furniture, back before Apple started selling them, too. So who’s actually right here, a handful of anonymous commenters acting as arbiters of universal style, or consumers looking to have fun customizing their new toys to their personal tastes?…

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Opinion: The pros & cons of existing streaming music services & what Apple’s needs to succeed

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Apple’s upcoming music streaming service comes at an interesting time in the industry. Jay-Z recently relaunched his own streaming music service dubbed Tidal, recruiting help from other A-list artists like Rhianna, Alicia Keys, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and Kanye West. There are existing services from Spotify, Beats, Google, and others. All of these offerings have their own pros and cons, but I’ve used them all and none of them accomplish streaming music perfectly. Apple now has the opportunity to take the best features of each service and offer its own competitive service.

Last week, Ben Lovejoy broke down exactly what Apple’s streaming music service would need for him to stop buying music. Even without Apple’s new service, I’ve already done that. Most of my music is streamed from Spotify. Rarely do I actually buy albums on iTunes, and I almost never buy physical CDs. The problem with this approach is no streaming music service gets it 100 percent right for me.

I’m hoping that Apple incorporates the best of each existing subscription music service into its own upcoming music service. What are those key points? Let’s discuss…

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Opinion: Roku’s new media players use voice search and apps to make Apple TV feel old

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Just so there’s no ambiguity on this point, I’m definitely an Apple TV fan. The first-generation model was a (literally) hot mess, but Apple did a much better job with the streamlined second- and third-generation versions, which I use every day and have strongly recommended for years. If you have an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, the Apple TV is one of the top three accessories you can buy for under $100, and nearly a no-brainer at Apple’s recently announced $69 price point.

Even as a fan, though, I give Apple TV’s chief competitor Roku great credit for developing compelling alternatives. According to reports, Roku is the number one seller of media streamers, and has been outselling the Apple TV for some time now. While it’s true that sales don’t necessarily reflect quality, Roku has earned its numbers by frequently iterating on its products — ironically unlike Apple, which has spent years letting an old Apple TV design chug along as a “hobby.” The difference in Roku’s and Apple’s approaches became starker yesterday when Roku released the new Roku 3 with Voice Search ($100) and new Roku 2 ($70), updates to two of its already-successful devices. These media streamers include several of the key features Apple should be adding to the Apple TV, including voice search, downloadable apps, games, and more…

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Opinion: Could the 1080p Apple TV 4 hint at a 4K Apple TV set?

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The Apple TV set-top box hardware is expected to be updated this summer after 3 years since the last real refresh and a recent price drop from $99 to $69. While the last Apple TV upgrade boosted video output from 720p to 1080p, the rumored Apple TV 4 is not believed to support ultra high definition 4K video output featured on newer TV sets. Here’s why that’s no surprise and what I think it could mean for an actual Apple TV set:

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Opinion: How soon is too soon for an Apple Watch 2?

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Apple’s upcoming retail overhaul for displaying the Watch

A lot of my techie friends are saying that the entry priced-Apple Watch Sport will be their pick next month, and not because of the exterior look. The theory is that Sport is the cheapest way to experience Apple’s new product category in 2015, and since the second-gen Apple Watch will inevitably be upgraded, why pay a premium this year for nicer materials such as stainless steel and sapphire glass?

Despite the Apple Watch’s desire to marry jewelry with technology, it hasn’t lost the baggage gadgets carry, namely the reality that they’ll be outdated and replaced in a relatively short period of time. If the Apple Watch evolves anything like the original iPad did when it became the iPad 2, the differences could be dramatic.

Personally, when I think about getting more perceived value out of a higher-priced stainless steel Apple Watch rather than testing the waters with the cheaper aluminum model, I’m more concerned with how soon the Apple Watch 2 will be announced rather than how much more functional the newer device could be. No matter what happens with the first-generation model, an Apple Watch 2 will come to market. How will Apple balance keeping the Apple Watch evolutionary momentum going with keeping the first-generation model “modern” for enough time to satisfy early adopters?

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