Sunday, May 28, 2006

MacBook impressions

I was at the local Apple retailer yesterday, and noticed that they had a brand new white MacBook on display! This got me very excited, because I wasn't expecting to be able to test one until the end of the summer. I must say, I liked what I saw...in general.

The first things to mention of course, are the big changes. Let's start with the keyboard. I was really surprised as to just how flat and spaced apart they are, but I must say I like it! It felt strange at first, but I tried typing on it and found that I could type very quickly, and since the keys are further apart, I didn't have very many typos. I also love the fact that it's sunk into the case, so it doesn't touch the screen when you close it.

The little hook-latch that's traditionally been on iBook G4s has been replaced by a magnetic latch. The magnet was much more powerful than I expected, and when I closed the lid of the MacBook, it slammed shut pretty quickly when it was almost closed. I found that it took a little bit of effort (not much, but there isn't a button that unhinges the latch like on other Apple notebooks) to pry the MacBook open once it was closed, and I don't know if I like that. I actually prefer being able to push a button and have my iBook G4 spring open.

Wireless on this MacBook was AMAZING. It picked up on wireless networks from shops that were REALLY far away, whilst other Macs that were sitting centimetres away from it couldn't pick up on them. I've heard great things about the MacBook's wireless sensitivity, but seeing it in action was tremendously impressive.

To be honest...I don't like the display. Yes it's very bright, and yes the colours look great, but there are two things I don't like about it, both related to how it looks too much like a PC to me. First of all, the display lacks the bevel of other Apple notebooks, in that the display is level with the border encasing it, instead of having a little indent, and being slightly behind its border, as is the case with say, the iBook G4, the PowerBook or MacBook Pro. Secondly, the gloss really does bother me. I never realised how MUCH I like the matte finish of iBook, Powerbook, MacBook Pro and Apple Cinema Displays, the layer of gloss makes it look cheap and PC-like. Both of these factors make the MacBook's screen look so much like a PC, that at first glance, I actually thought it WAS a white PC (the retailer doesn't only sell Macs). If Apple gave the option of purchasing a MacBook with a matte-finished screen, I'd love it.

Software ran very well; the iSight camera and microphone worked fine with Photo Booth and Garageband, and all the bundled apps ran pretty smoothly. Photoshop took ages to load on Rosetta, but it was still usable. All in all, it felt and worked just like a Mac, because after all, that's what it is. I also got a chance to run Boot Camp on it and boot into Windows XP! The shop had kindly installed Windows XP on all their Macs to demonstrate Boot Camp at work, and they had formatted the Windows partition in Fat32, meaning you could see the partition and access its files in OS X. Booting into Windows wasn't a problem, I just held down Option after hearing the restart chime (they had set it to automatically boot into OS X by default), and the choice between booting from 'Macintosh HD' or from 'Win XP' appeared, and I selected the latter. After I selected it, the traditional (ugly) Windows boot screen appeared, and in less than a minute I was running XP. But...it felt a bit dirty, so I switched straight back to OS X. However, I did try XP out eventually on an iMac. At first, it was annoying, because it took Windows quite a long time to recognise the keyboard and the Mighty Mouse, but once it did, it was up and running, and everything looked and worked just like XP is supposed to. Cool for gaming, annoying otherwise...and to be honest, it just doesn't feel right running Windows on a Mac.

Overall, I like the new look and feel of the MacBook, although the screen bothers me quite a bit. Nevertheless, it was quite a joy to finally be able to get my hands on one.

Random note:
On an unrelated note, it appears that I've been comment spammed! Any comments that are posted on this site get emailed to me at ithinkthereforeipodcast@gmail.com, and when I checked my email today, imagine my surprise when I saw 63 new comments, scattered throughout my archives, on posts like this one and this one. Many of them followed very legitimate comments by both my wonderful readers and myself, and were all brief and, thankfully, quite uplifting and pleasant in nature. However, what gave them away was the fact that a) they were all consecutively posted by an anonymous user, b) many of the comments were repeats, and c) (here's the kicker) each comment included a tiny embedded link to various URLs, which was the hard proof that this was indeed, spam.

So I either got unlucky, or this blog's grown enough to merit being spammed. I'm far more amused than concerned at the moment, but I might look into some security.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Microsoft advises running Word in 'Safe Mode'

This PC World article is absolutely hilarious, though I admit, not entirely Apple-related.

Apparently there's a new Trojan horse (malware that we Mac users don't have to deal with), which buries itself in a real Word file attached to an email, and executes itself when you open the Word file.

Basically, this Trojan, whilst not widespread, exploits a HUGE vulnerability in Word, which Microsoft is working on patching. In the meantime, they advise running WORD in "safe mode", which I find absolutely hilarious. Of course, they claim that it's a simple two-step process; I quote the article: "the first step is to disable the Outlook feature that uses Word for editing e-mails. The second involves creating a new desktop shortcut that adds "/safe" to the Word command line."

Brilliant...I can just imagine Steve Ballmer and the people at Microsoft going "uh...yeah...until we fix it...run Word in safe mode."

The people at Microsoft never fail to make me...'LMAO', so to speak.

It seems appropriate to watch this Apple ad again.

Monday, May 22, 2006

SanDisk's "iDon't" and the iPod's click-wheel success

SanDisk recently launched the website iDon't in an effort to combat the iPod. It portrays iPod users as sheep...following a crowd and being unoriginal. The site features rather aggressive, anti-iPod ads and links, as well as the 'Alternative', SanDisk's own e200 music player.

Now...this just seems a tad immature and unnecesarry on their part. Is it really effective marketing to express bitterness over a more successful product and try to topple it by attempting to insult it? For me, it just stinks of bitterness.

So the interesting question here is, what makes the iPod so ridiculously successful? After all, alternatives such as the Sandisk e200 and new players such as the iRiver Clix and many MP3 players from Samsung, Mobiblu, and many others offer greater storage, greater compatability with audio formats, better battery life, and extra features, such as an FM tuner, all at a cheaper price than the iPod. So why is the iPod able to maintain its dominance?

Well, iPod fans (such as myself) have a lot of standard answers. The iPod has the best, most inuitive and user-friendly interface, it's got the sexiest, simplest design and is synonymous with 'Cool'. Add Apple's customer service with the plethora of accessories out there, and you've got the world's best MP3 player.

Whilst all of these reasons and explanations make sense and are true to some extent, for me, one thing sets the iPod apart from all competitors. The click wheel. See, the thing is, when it comes to scrolling through thousands of artists and songs to find one specific track, no design out there beats the iPod's scroll wheel. It works so intuitively and feels so responsive; if you move your finger faster, it scrolls faster. All other interfaces, no matter how sexy they might look, are not as effective as the iPod's menus and click wheel in finding exactly what you want.

So until someone replaces the click wheel with a better way of navigating through tens of gigabytes of media files, the iPod will always be the only mp3 player for me. And, if I might add, it ought to be the mp3 player for you too. It's still by far the best.

Digg this.

Podcast Alley!

Here's some fun news; you can now find my podcast on Podcast Alley, and at the Pod Lounge. All you have to do is search for 'I think, therefore iPod'. Feel free to vote for my podcast on Podcast Alley if you want, but that doesn't really matter, at least not until I'm up on iTunes. It's just good fun to finally be on these listings!

If you do like my podcast though, please feel free to spread the word! I'd love to have more listeners, and I promise I'll make an extra effort to release episodes more regulary. I still need some better art for the podcast though; I'll get round to that some day.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Apple's new flagship store

Apple opened its new flagship retail store on Friday in downtown Manhattan, and it's quite simply unlike any other Apple store I've ever seen. Here's a video (on YouTube) of Steve Jobs himself talking to CNBC about the store.

Apple's making a pretty big deal out of the store; they have a page on their website with a constantly-updating Quicktime video feed of the crowd and the line outside the store, and they're giving a new MacBook away every hour for the first 24 hours that the store's open. This isn't a big surprise, because it is, after all, their flagship store.

The store's design is phenomenally, and incredibly unique. It's an underground Apple Store, which is unheard of, the entrance to which lies in the heart of a big plaza in downtown Manhattan. The entrance is a giant, 32 foot glass cube, designed by Steve Jobs himself, leading down into the store. In the centre of the cube hangs a giant, white Apple logo; it's quite a beauty to behold. I think it's a BRILLIANT design, because in my opinion, in order to attract customers to an underground store, there's got to be a pretty noticeable above-ground entrance or indication of the store's existence, and my goodness, has Apple done that. Isolated from other retail stores, the Apple cube stands alone in its plaza, just screaming for people to go in. But pictures say far more than words in this case, so take a look:

The cube in all its glory. I love how it lights up at night, it looks quite stunning.


The store viewed at an angle. One can clearly see how the Apple logo hangs in the centre.


The entrance to the store. It must be very exciting to walk into the cube and down the glass stairs.

The view from inside the store; notice the glass staircase leading down from the entrance.


Here's a fun little piece of trivia to end off: if the store closes, or when Apple's lease expires, Steve Jobs wants to keep the glass cube for himself.

So, who wants a trip to New York?

Photos courtesy of Apple and Apple Insider.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Podcast #5

Finally! Another episode!

In today's show:

New Segments

News
  • MacBook
  • Lawsuits galore! Apple vs Apple, Creative
  • Creative Fable
  • Softbank Apple phone reports

  • Rumours
  • Will anything be revealed at the new flagship store?
  • Windows API in Leopard?

  • Apple Store
  • Desktop Buttons

  • Project
  • Skinning a PC to look like a Mac
  • FlyakiteOSX
  • Objectdock

  • Garageband 3
  • Podcast Studio features
  • Art

  • Uninstalling on a Mac
  • Click and Drag
  • AppZapper

  • Listen to today's show here.

    Subscribe to my podcast! Go to iTunes, open the 'Advanced' menu, select 'Subscribe to Podcast', and paste the following URL into the box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ithinkthereforeipod

    Wednesday, May 17, 2006

    More MacBook Madness!

    So there are a couple of things about the new MacBook that I didn't mention earlier (mainly because I wasn't particularly aware of them) which are worth a note.

    The first is the display. The MacBook features a glossy display, unlike the MacBook Pro or previous Apple notebooks, which didn't feature a layer of gloss on the screens. Now some people seem to dislike glossy screens, and others seem to love them; most PC laptops nowadays use glossy screens. The main disadvantage of glossy screens is that there can be a lot of glare reflected off of them, particularly when viewing the screen at an angle. Now most would argue that nobody uses their computer at an angle, which is quite true, but at the same time, some feel that the glossy screen looks cheap compared to the matte-finished displays of other Apple products. The glossy display apparently increases contrast and boosts colour, which is a plus I suppose. I personally don't like the layer of gloss, in terms of aesthetics, but that's a general preference. I prefer matte finishes on photographs, casings, and I suppose PC displays now. However, if the gloss was necessary for the 79% brightness increase in the screen, then that's something I'm willing to accept, because the lack of brightness on the iBook G4 display is something that genuinely bugged me a bit.

    More can also be said about the keyboard. As well as being firmer, the MacBook's keyboard also features flat keys, unlike the concave keyboards that we've become used to. Again, for some, this is a bad thing, because flat keys, many argue, provide less tactile feedback than concave keys. However, the flat keyboard makes for firmer typing, and it also quietens the keys, according to Cyrus Farivar, which would be a big plus, seeing as two major complaints about the iBook G4's keyboard are its flimsy feel and excessive noise whilst typing. Finally, the MacBook keyboard also doesn't touch the screen when the laptop is closed, which means no more keyboard markings on the display! Hoorah!

    And finally, changing RAM has become much easier on new Macs, and this is still the case with the MacBook. But another big plus is that the hard disk is also now easily replaceable! For those of you who like tweaking your Macs, Apple has kindly made the task a lot easier than in the past. Good stuff.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    Apple releases MacBook

    So I wake up this morning at 5:30am, completely jetlagged, I check my email and I see an anonymous comment that says 'Write about the new 13'' white and black MacBook' and my immediate reaction was 'What? Dude, it's just a rumour, it's not out yet...' So I visit Apple's website and I see the bomb that they've dropped. Sure enough, the new 13", black and white MacBook has been released. Any my goodness, I haven't been this excited about a new Mac in a very, very long time. I can't wait to get my hands on one, but for now, let's take a look at what it boast.

    Features and Design
    So the MacBook sports all of the new features we expected: Intel Core Duo chip at 2Ghz, built-in iSight, Front Row with the Apple Remote, MagSafe connecter, iLife '06, basically the whole package.

    There are however, a few new features of the MacBook worth drooling over.

    The first is the keyboard. One major complaint I got from a lot of people about the iBook G4 was that the keyboard seemed flimsy and was too loud. I completely agreed. The MacBook features a newly designed keyboard, with firmer keys sunk into the bed of the machine. This is a HUGE plus. The keyboard is something that we use all the time when we're on a computer, and improving the keyboard should really enhance the overall experience of using the machine in a very subtle way. There's also a larger trackpad, which is one of my favourite little additions to the MacBook Pro; nice to see it one the MacBook too - I find that a bigger trackpad really enhances usability.

    The latch has also been redesigned: it's now a magnetic latch. I applaud this new design. I absolutely love the MagSafe power adapter, and to add this same feature on the latch is a plus as well, because I always felt that the little pop-out metal hook looked a bit flimsy.

    And finally, of course...it comes in black. Obviously borrowing from the popularity of the black iPods, the MacBook is now the perfect iPod companion, and sets itself apart from the Apple pro-line by moving away from the titanium colour of the Power Mac and the MacBook Pro, aligning itself with the iPod. I personally think black notebooks are too common, and that Apple's white set the iBook apart, but hey, choice isn't a bad thing. I wonder how well the black models will sell. And of course, the next question is, will we see a black iMac to complete the consumer line?

    Aesthetically, it's beautiful. A sleek white or black shell without the slight tone variation of the iBook, it's like a little iMac or an oversized iPod without the silver back. Stunning, I love it. I've been looking at photos of it, and my only question is - where the heck are the speakers? It has them...I just can't see them! Maybe it's like the iMac, with the speakers hidden away or something.

    Specs
    Specifications are generally positive and exciting: 1.83Ghz or 2Ghz Core Duo processor, 1280x800 widescreen display resolution,

    There are some specifications that are worth a note.

    Firstly, whilst the display's resolution sits at 1280x800, the MacBook can support resolutions of up to 1920x1200 on an external monitor, which is awesome news if you own a large display or are using a projector.

    Here's an interesting one: the power adapter is 60W, unlike the MacBook Pro's 85W, which I wrote about earlier. Hopefully this will mean a normal sized power brick, unlike the MBP's gigantic one.

    There are a few specs that make me sigh a little. The first is the 64MB Intel integrated graphics processor, like the one in the Mac Mini, which shares memory with the rest of the computer. Whilst 64MB is a boost on the iBook's 32, many people frown at the idea of integrated graphics and sharing graphics memory with system RAM.

    The optical drive doesn't go higher than a 4x DVD burning Superdrive, as is the case with the 15.4" MacBook Pro. A little bit worse than the iBook G4, and a disappointment if you like burning DVDs. But, given that they couldn't stuff a 8x into the MBP, I'm not surprised that it didn't show up in the MacBook.

    Overall
    Overall, I'm blown away by the MacBook. I can't wait to get to test one, or to see some benchmarking. Right now though, I can safely say that I want one! And it's shipping already. Nice job Apple, very, very nice job.

    Price-wise, it's $100 more than the old iBook G4, starting at US$1,099, but since the Mac Mini got this same price increase, it's not incredibly surprising. Not a big plus for the MacBook, but you get what you pay for, and it seems to more than justify its price.

    Random Miscellany
    I thought it was interesting to note that the image on the 'design' page of the MacBook is an image of the laptop showing the upcoming Disney Pixar movie 'Cars'. A little bit of Steve Jobs' subtle marketing at play perhaps?

    The iBook G4 has also been removed from the online store...meaning that my Mac has now officially been discontinued.

    On an unrelated note, the price of the 15.4" MacBook has dropped, well actually no, the price hasn't dropped, the high end 2.0Ghz model has just been subtly upgraded to a 2.16Ghz Core Duo chip, fixing a price disparity that I wrote about here. The 1.83Ghz model has also been subtly upgraded to 2.0Ghz.

    MacBook Pro Impressions

    I've just had my first opportunity to spend some serious time using a MacBook Pro. My previous experiences were limited to the Apple Store and to online reviews. But yesterday, I spent half a day playing around with a 15.4", 2Ghz model, with 1GB of RAM. It's an interesting machine, with a lot of pluses, but isn't without its problems.

    Hardware
    The MacBook Pro is a beautiful machine. It looks, as we all know, just like the old PowerBooks. The display, first of all, is stunning. I placed it next to my iBook G4 and its brightness and clarity just blew the iBook away. It actually made me feel a little bit bad, because it really is that much crisper and brighter; it's by far the most gorgeous display I've ever seen on a laptop...I can't wait to check out the 17".

    One strange thing that immediately struck me was that the power adapter for the MacBook Pro is HUGE. The 85W adapter is bigger than my Airport Express, which I had plugged in next to it. This could genuinely be a problem, because lugging something that big around could prove quite a burden. However, I love the MagSafe connector. I think all cables should attach like it does.

    The iSight camera is sweet, and images look just as good if not better than images taken with the stand-alone iSight. I ran iChat AV and Photo Booth, and the camera worked wonderfully on both. It's really fun to be able to move a laptop around with the built in camera, it adds a whole new level of versatility when videoconferencing: you can show people hard-to-reach places in your room, or spin the computer around for trippy visual effects - it's good fun!

    So let's talk about heat and noise. There have been lots of complaints about the MacBook Pro's heat levels and about strange sounds coming from it. And indeed, these were definitely issues with this machine, particularly the heat. The MacBook Pro got so hot in just a few minutes that it actually hurt to touch the back of the machine just behind the keyboard, near the display latch. It was genuinely too hot to touch for more than a few seconds. I also noticed bizarre sounds coming from the machine at times, a kind of high-pitched whirring. These sounds were almost certainly caused by the MagSafe connector or the power unit, because once I unplugged the power cable, the sounds would disappear. Whilst mildly noticeable, the strange noises were generally quiet enough not to be a problem.

    Performance
    Fast. That just about sums up the MacBook Pro. I've never seen a Mac, or any computer for that matter, boot so quickly in my life. Granted, the unit is relatively new, so there aren't many login items and the hard drive is pretty empty, but the boot speed was astonishing nonetheless. I'll time the startup the next time I get my hands on it.

    Applications launched at blistering speeds; iTunes and Safari for example, launched in one dock bounce. I also tested standard, Universal, bundled apps. Garageband ran extremely smoothly, tracks imported from iTunes much faster than they do on my iBook, and there is a very pleasing absence of spinning beach balls of death. Without going into too much depth, because plenty of benchmarking has been done for the MBP already, it suffices to say that Universal apps run beautifully, faster than on any other Mac I've used.

    Now...what about Rosetta? Benchmarking and reviews are one thing, actually using it first-hand is completely different. I haven't tested it as much as I would have liked, but in general, I have mixed feelings about Rosetta. For non-intensive apps such as Office, the speed of the MacBook Pro basically compensates for the performance dip brought about by Rosetta. However, when I tried to run Halo, things were quite different. First of all, the video performance was amazing; I could push Halo up to the highest resolution with all details to the max, and it was quite breathtaking to behold. However, gameplay was non-existent. At both the lowest and the highest video settings, the game just could not be played. It was choppy, laggy, and just did not perform. The fact that it was the same at every video setting indicated to me that it was Rosetta that was to blame for the horrendous performance. So basically, you're not going to be gaming using Rosetta.

    Problems
    This particular MacBook Pro has some strange problems, enough that would warrant sending it back to Apple. Apart from the sounds and the unacceptable heat levels, the machine would often reset itself without prior warning, which would result in you losing anything that hadn't been saved at the time. This would happen most frequently after waking the MacBook Pro from sleep. I don't know what causes this issue, or how it can be resolved, but as long as it keeps happening, it renders this particular MacBook Pro unusable for serious projects, for fear of losing one's work.

    Battery life isn't that great either. Whilst I can frequently get 4-5, and sometimes even 6 hours on my iBook G4, the MacBook Pro has trouble hitting 4 hours, and usually lasts just over 3 hours before the battery dies.

    Final thoughts
    I'm actually slightly disappointed with the MacBook Pro, not because it doesn't perform (my goodness, it's SO fast), but because of all the little issues and problems associated with it. Whilst I acknowledge the fact that Apple is in a period of transition with the switch to Intel, it just isn't like them to have such widespread problems with their products. The heat, sounds and bugs are not isolated to this particular unit, and all seem to point towards poor quality control more than anything else. Perhaps Apple spent too much time making sure that the MacBook Pro would be the most powerful notebook available, and overlooked a lot of little issues. The problem is, part of the beauty of the Mac experience is the lack of annoying little things that are ever-present on PCs that distract you from the end user experience. Let's face it, Mac users are used to not having any problems with their computer. These little issues effectively take away from the overall computing experience of the MacBook Pro, making it feel less like the Macs we know and love. If Apple addresses these problems and improves Rosetta (or all apps go Universal), then the Macbook Pro would without question be the fastest and the best Mac notebook ever.

    Overall, whilst the MacBook Pro is incredibly fast and performs better than any other Mac I've used, the heat, sound and bugs, coupled with Rosetta's poor performance on higher-end applications means that I'll hold off on getting one for myself.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    New Apple Ads

    Wow, have you seen the new ads on Apple's homepage? Their agenda seems to be clear now: Macs are the best computers for running both OS X and Windows and PC software. The ads are very direct and blatantly targeting the Mac vs PC rivalry. It's also interesting to note that 'Switch' has now been replaced with 'Get a Mac'.

    The ads are really quite funny, featuring two people, a square-looking guy in a suit named 'PC', and a chilled out, almost Jobs-esque character as the Mac. Quite effective personification of computers if you ask me. Ever since Apple's first Intel Mac ad, there seems to have been a very aggressive movement in the PC-bashing direction. Whilst this entertains me, and I very much agree, the tinge of arrogance that Apple's showing might not go down well with everybody.

    All of the ads can be seen here.

    Monday, May 01, 2006

    Apple Store Opening

    Apple's apparently opening its second Toronto Apple Store at the Eaton Centre on the 6th.

    Be there! Hopefully this report is true...