Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Conversations with Siri #11

Monday, June 22, 2015

What's Missing in the Apple Computer World?

In looking at how amazing the Apple computing experience is, I have neglected the dark side - the lack of Apple mainstream use in much of business computing.  While some companies do use Macs, these are typically limited to creative companies, scientific organizations, and the like.  I believe this is primarily due to perception and familiarity, but I would argue that behind the culture is a truism that much software does not exist on the Mac.

While Java and Web have gone a long way to be cross-platform, there is much native software on Windows that has not been developed cross-platform.  One such genre is design and engineering.

Computers are used for a large variety of tasks in the business world.  I believe that the primary use is that of office document processing, e-mail, and web access.  These 3 things, pretty much any computer can do.  While the Mac does it very well, it is hard to justify spending $800 to $1000 when you can spend $500 on a cheap Windows PC (I'm talking with keyboard and monitor) - in bulk, or for a small business trying to make ends meet, I can see the arguments.  It's a hard cost that is up front in their face when they write the check, and not a soft cost that comes by later in productivity or IT support.

However, for engineering software, there are limited choices.  AutoDesk has introduced Inventor Fusion for the Mac, which works well and is a great 3D package.  However, AutoDesk has not been taken seriously in many 3D industries like Automotive or Aerospace (where Dassault, Parametric Technologies and Siemens rule), and has struggled for acceptance in other industries like Heavy Industry and Manufacturing.  They have made some inroads into Consumer Goods, but for the most part have had their strengths in 2D (mostly architecture).

Dassault Systemes has introduced DraftSight, a package that is designed to let users create and edit AutoCAD drawings - I have seen many AutoCAD (the AutoDesk 2D product) customers say they prefer to use DraftSight for its light-weight footprint, better performance, and refreshing take on User Interface.  This is available on the Mac, but I wonder how many people have downloaded it for that platform.

What I see as a big hole, and perhaps a big opportunity, is the lack of high-end, premium 3D design packages for the Mac.  And nowadays, a 3D design package is only as good as its back-end data management system (now called Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM, system) - so not only does the package have to allow designers to draw 3D geometry, but it has to interface with the PLM servers.  So it seems that a significant effort is needed to get a design package to the Macintosh platform.

As an aside, you could imagine that Apple, Inc. has a need to design their products to build (digitally, not by drafting board!).  And, for those designs, they would be made in 3D.  That begs the question, what software does Apple use?  I am not familiar with electrical design software (especially electronics, micro-circuitry, and chip design), but there again the Windows platform has the solutions the industry uses.  Apple designs and builds many of their chips, and so must use Windows to design their Ax chips.  I have looked into that via web searches, and have found some rumors that sound credible.  It appears to be a secret, but I would bet that Apple is using Windows-based 3D software, and it seems even more believable that they are not using it on non-Apple PC's (i.e. they are booting Windows on their Macs).  Now, it would seem that being able to do full 3D design in a Mac-native platform would appeal to them - but of course, Apple is insanely profitable, and doesn't care about paying Windows licensing fees.  But maybe they do care about performance and productivity, and my experience has been that once people use OS X, by and large they tend to want to stick with it primarily, and avoid Windows like the plague.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pulse - Still Beating or No Heartbeat?

A short time ago, LinkedIn acquired Pulse, a web site and mobile app that allows you to browse Internet content of interest to you in one place, in a consistent format.  Blogs, news publications, etc. all can be saved for later reference, or shared, and viewed - and marked as read.

I have been using it since before LinkedIn bought it.  I don't know how many of you caught the Keynote Address at the Apple WWDC 2015, but new in iOS 9 will be a News reader app like Pulse.  Of course, in true Apple fashion, they not only went there, but went there in a big way.  Not only does it conglomerate articles of interest to you, it learns what you like the more you use it - and presents it in a truly elegant and beautiful way.  Content providers can even target their articles using publishing features of the News app - things like fully interactive content, animations, transitions, embedded multimedia, and more - of course, presented in a consistent format across feeds, blogs and web sites.  Just like Pulse, but way beyond.

So, after that announcement, it occurred to me that I no longer have a need for Pulse, and that as soon as iOS 9 is available in a more stable Beta (next week perhaps?), I will perhaps have a chance to ditch Pulse once and for all.  As great as Pulse was, there were a few things that drove me crazy.  Namely, it constantly lost the "read" mark, so I would forget the last publication I read from each source.  It crashed every once in awhile, and that was very annoying because it then didn't remember all the articles I had read.  Another one, you would think that All Things Digital would be a source it would know how to display, but instead each and every publication you can't read the content, and have to use the "View on web" link - and I don't want to view on the web in my phone browser, because it is not mobile friendly.

What are your thoughts?  Have you used Pulse, or some other conglomerator (sounds like one of Dr. Doofenschmirtz's -inators)?  If you own an iPhone/iPad/iPod, would you ditch the others and go with Apple's News reader?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

AARP Enters into the Tablet Fray

Apparently, there must be a huge gap not covered by other tablet makers, that AARP (the retirement services group) feels must be filled.  So they introduced the RealPad.  Obviously, given the organization sponsoring it, the target market seems to be older people who feel slightly alienated by the technology, may have impaired vision, and who want someone to call when they have questions.  Some highlights of this are:
  • It comes pre-loaded with a shotgun of apps (including some AARP apps, of course) that probably cover the gamut of needs for most people (I find it interesting that they list many of the same apps twice under different names).
  • It comes pre-configured with large icons for people needing large, vision-friendly system.
  • Dozens of How-To videos are pre-loaded on the system.
  • It is only $149, great for seniors on a fixed income.
It sounds great, but what are the caveats that you should be aware of?  How does it stack up to the other stuff on the market?  What issues do I have with it, and might those be important to you?  In reviewing the information available on their web site, this is what I have from it.


  • To me, one big caveat is it is an Android tablet.  As I have posted before (and here), Android is not complete, fraught with insecurity, and almost entirely out of date from the moment you get it.
  • Indeed, it runs Android Kitkat 4.4, which as of today is already almost 2 years old.  AARP is not issuing updates to the Android OS for this tablet.
  • If you care at all about the hardware, it is severely limited for anything above and beyond what it comes with out of the box.
    • 16 GB of flash storage.  It does offer a Micro SD slot for additional storage, so that does help alleviate that issue.
    • Very low resolution cameras, so this is not something you would trust to use as a high quality camera.
    • The processor that runs everything is pretty low powered, so I expect it to perform slow.
    • The WiFi that it comes with is the standard that was replaced 2-3 years ago, the old "n" standard.  It does not have the new "ac" standard, and so will only operate at the slower speeds on WiFi.  This may be acceptable, especially for a $149 price tag.
  • There is a 1-year limited warranty.  There doesn't seem to be any way to extend that - I know many people enjoy the extended AppleCare warranty for 3 years.
  • It is not clear how many accessories fit this device.  It is manufactured by Zingarr, so you must do your research to see if some cases or other accessories may fit.

Why RealPad Instead of Real iPad?

The iPad, and indeed the Apple devices, are world-renowned top-notch devices that offer settings to help use the iPad for impaired customers.  When it comes to vision and hearing impairments, the "handicapped" people have spoken - they will only buy Apple.  And with good reason.  I don't think a pre-configuration of an Android tablet will convince very many people to get away from Apple, although the $149 price tag may for those who don't care about anything else.

Out of the box, an iPad would have to be set up to be accessible for the particular handicaps for the user.  I think the RealPad comes assuming a moderate visual impairment.  This may be good for someone without access to a local store, or a local expert able to help them configure the device - again, assuming they fit within the "bell curve" of the target market for this device.  But, I see this device, like any targeted at a "price-conscious" market, would be susceptible to any other low-price device that may come along in the future, promising some other nice feature.

Because of all this, I would say that the only reason you would go with RealPad over iPad, would be price.

Why RealPad Instead of Some Other Android Tablet?

Here, there is a slightly more compelling case made.  The fact that instructional videos come pre-installed, plus the pre-configured visual accessibility, 24/7 technical support phone line, and pre-installed apps, this for $149 is a much more appealing offering than many other Android tablets.  Still, I'd wager to say that the Amazon Kindle tablets probably have a better organization behind them in general, although I don't think they target this older, hard-of-seeing, tech-reticent market that AARP is going after here.

What Do I Recommend?

If you are dead set on an Android tablet (in spite of many reasons I give to avoid), and if you fall under this older generation of individuals who is somewhat tech-aware, not tech-savvy, and are looking for a lower-cost tablet, I think this may have some appeal.  Contact AARP, see if you can go somewhere and try it out, or ship it back within 30 days if you aren't satisfied.

For my clams, I'd rather get an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, which is actually $10 less (Kindle Fire HD 7").  Further, assuming I am of that market who is at or near retirement, certainly I would look forward to the challenge of figuring out something new.  That challenge alone keeps my brain sharp, and keeps me exploring, learning new things.  Even if the Kindle doesn't come "all set up" for what I would do, I would want to spend some time personalizing it.  But that's me.  Some people want a car with basic features, just to get from point A to point B.  The RealPad is a little nicer than that, but if you hate having a slow machine that takes a long time responding to your touches, I don't think you are going to like the RealPad.  Just going on the specs, it is about the same as the SkyPad I reviewed last year - and I don't think I've had the patience to turn that thing on more than 5 times in the past 9 months.