Archive for June, 2009

Curse You, URL Shortening Services!

June 19, 2009

I now have a horse in the URL shortening drama. My Meme Obfuscation Machine doesn’t work for tweets. Try as I might, I just can’t get something by Twitter’s automatic URL shortening. Seriously, what’s the fun in Rickrolling someone with a carefully-crafted, seductive URL when it gets turned into bit.ly/NauRm.

Lessons of a First-Time WWDC Attendee

June 13, 2009

In the interest of contributing to the wealth of tips on WWDC, I’d like to share what I learned this week about the event itself—I can’t talk about the session material since it’s under a non-disclosure agreement.

  1. Don’t lose your badge. I didn’t, thankfully, but the attachment of the badge to the lanyard is very precarious. Everything—everything—revolves around that badge and there’s security everywhere. They will balk if they can’t see the full badge.
  2. There is no Apple-provided dinner except for the Bash. From the original Web site, it seemed like Apple would provide dinner daily, but that was emphatically not the case. The Bash food, incidentally, was excellent. I was stuffed from the sushi, hot dogs, pizza, Chinese, pasta, cookies, and quiescent confections.
  3. You can leave on Friday. I booked my return flight for Saturday morning thinking that sessions would run as normal on Friday and I didn’t want to rush around dealing with luggage and transportation to the airport. Turns out, the last session ended a little past 2 o’clock and they have a luggage holding station at Moscone West. I could have easily left that day. There’s a lot to see in San Francisco, of course, but I was ready to go home.
  4. Don’t miss Stump the Experts. I didn’t learn anything at all from the session but it was hilarious. This was the 20th Stump the Experts event and it made me feel nostalgic even though this was my first time attending.
  5. The labs run concurrently with the sessions. There were many great sessions that conflicted with one another, but most of the good labs also conflicted with those great sessions. The best bet, I found, was to skip a Q&A here and there to make use of the session interstitials. Even still, I missed several opportunities. If the videos came out in a timely manner, I’d say to only go to the sessions for the Q&A (or to ask your Qs at) and focus on the labs. You can watch the video at your leisure but you’re never going to get that kind of face time with an Apple engineer otherwise.
  6. The WiFi access was excellent. I consistently got five bars throughout Moscone West during the entire conference. I also was able to connect via VPN at will. I’m not sure why the online accounts I read had WiFi trouble in the past, but Apple appears to have gotten its act together.
  7. Complaining about the lines is an effective icebreaker. WWDC, for me, was a series of lines: lines for the sessions, lines for the labs, lines for the urinals, lines for the sinks, lines for the food. Witty observations about this led to many interesting conversations with line neighbors. Not that you need an icebreaker: I never had any trouble striking up a conversation with anyone and the bonhomie was palpable throughout.
  8. Use the elevator. There’s an elevator near the stairs that was almost never being used. If you’re on the third floor after a Presidio session and you want to go to a lab, your best bet is to skip the line for the escalators entirely and go straight for the elevators. I generally rode it alone; I have no idea why so few people took it.
  9. Plan on getting in line for the Keynote by 8 o’clock. I waited until 9 AM to mosey down to Moscone and the line had already wrapped around nearly back to the main entrance off Howard. By 9:45, we had barely moved. I ended up getting seated in the overflow room, which had quite a nice view of the Keynote, about 10:20 AM and missed the hardware announcements entirely.
  10. The Interface Design consultation is by appointment and they fill up quickly. I was planning on having an Apple engineer give my iPhone application a once-over, but I didn’t realize you had to reserve a spot so they were gone by the time I got down there. If I were doing it again, I would make this action my top priority.

Was WWDC worth it? Big time. It was hard being away from my family—video conferencing via iChat helped considerably—but I learned so much and got direct answers to my questions that I can recommend it without reservation. Plus, I got a developer’s preview of Snow Leopard that is wonderful. iPhone OS 3.0 and Snow Leopard are going to be great, people. Make sure you upgrade when they become available.

Redmond, Start Your Pricing Guns

June 11, 2009

One of the most exciting aspects of the WWDC keynote announcements was the pricing of Snow Leopard at $29 and a five-pack family pricing of $49. I’ve purchased every version of Mac OS X for $129 since the original 10.0 (except 10.1 obviously), only occasionally catching a break due to buying new Macintoshes.

Every version was worth it, mind you, but it still felt like an ongoing cost of owning a Mac. (I must here disclaim any sense of entitlement: I know that previous versions of Mac OS X continue to work after the new ones come out and I have taken that route for non-essential computers. This feeling arose from my inner cheapskate more than any sense of deserving something for nothing.) Every new version required a careful calculation of benefits and review of features for ancillary machines.

But I don’t have to think twice at a $29 (or $49) price point. On this point, David Pogue has it right. But his reasons for the pricing barely scratch the surface. I paraphrase his four listed reasons as follows:

  1. This release doesn’t have enough features to justify $129.
  2. They want to get this out to a lot of people.
  3. They want to embarrass Microsoft with this ridiculous value of the release.
  4. The lower the price, the likelihood that people won’t even blink at upgrading.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. 10.6 requires an Intel machine. If you’ve got an Intel machine already, it’s likely that you’ve running 10.5 and that you’d gladly pay $29 to recover 6 GB of space much less for a slew of new features. If you’re running Tiger on an Intel machine, you have to shell out $169 for the Mac OS X Box Set. And if you’re not using an Intel machine, you cannot upgrade to 10.6 (and presumably any future releases either). So this release cycle effectively communicates to those still on Tiger or the PowerPC platform that their days of being supported by Apple are nearly over.

Finally, if 10.6 is truly laying the groundwork for future plans, then Apple has an interest in having as many developers making use of its new technologies as possible. But historically developers will not migrate to these new systems until a critical mass of users have made the move: supporting two disparate versions of a feature is expensive for small developers and they won’t do it unless there’s a absolutely compelling reason. Pricing 10.6 at this level will induce a substantial number of consumers to upgrade. On the iPhone, I can imagine that 3.0-only applications will come about soon because the upgrade friction is minimal there.

With a solid base of applications using 10.6 features, Apple can sell future hardware in a way that Microsoft-based vendors cannot. With the gigahertz arms race faded, hardware vendors are competing on multiple cores, multiple CPUs, and RAM. But consumers quickly discover that all of this extra hardware encounters diminishing returns on the software that they use—either the software can’t make use of memory above 4GB or these extra cores are mostly idle. 10.6’s promise is that it makes using these hardware features seamless to the developer through mechanisms like Grand Central Dispatch, OpenCL, and completing the transition to 64-bit.

These strike me as more substantive reasons for the pricing than Pogue’s facile ones. I believe 10.7 will resume the $129 price cycle as people catch up to the Intel/Leopard transition and Apple wants the third-party applications to be there waiting to sell the hardware’s value.