Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

Duff: Why Dvorak is wrong about the iPhone

Duff: Columnist goes off the deep end over iPhone

I usually try to stay away from easy targets, but when a big-name columnist sticks his neck out, sometimes I can’t help myself. John C. Dvorak is the Mike Wallace of technology columnists. He was writing a column for PC Magazine when I was learning my way around the halls of Monterey High School.

But wrong is wrong, and I feel like someone should speak up when an emperor of Dvorak’s caliber decides to take a stroll without his clothes.

In a January column for MarketWatch, Dvorak tries to talk down the iPhone. He agrees with Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, who can’t see it being that successful. For evidence, Dvorak mentions a European phone called a Neonode, also with a touch screen, that is “more of a fashion accessory and conversation piece than anything else.”

He dismisses the iPhone as “an iPod with benefits.” All of these observations are within the realm of reasonable discourse. Smart people may disagree about the state of the industry and the utility of Apple products, but then Dvorak goes off the deep end.

He says the iPhone hype is due to Steve Jobs’ “reality-distortion field.” Specifically, he thinks Jobs has mastered some kind of Transcendental Meditation technique that gives him influence over the minds of men.

It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths rational people will go to in an effort to deny the obvious. Apple products don’t succeed because Steve Jobs has magical powers. Apple products succeed because they work. They are beautiful, functional and easy to use. Most companies can master two of these requirements, but to create a product that can satisfy all three – that takes real work.

I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Mac on my desk, but I love my iPod, and my brief encounter with an iPhone overcame my concerns. The touch screen works. It’s fast, clean and responsive. The device is remarkably intuitive, and you don’t have to understand the details to appreciate it.

Apple’s competitors underestimate them because they don’t know how to balance these elements. They give us ugly, functional products – or they saddle us with pretty ones that are hard to use. Apple’s success comes from the fusion of function and design. Consumers think these products are worth paying for, and to people who don’t get it, the results look like magic.

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 20, 2007 at 14:53

Posted in Apple, Columns

iPhone in a blender

Sure you love your new iPhone. It can text, it can call, it can surf. But will it blend?

Written by Michael B. Duff

July 11, 2007 at 12:58

Posted in Apple

iPhone Lust

It's the hottest new product you can't buy yet. It's Apple's new iPhone and if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it. With an estimated list price of $500, iPhone is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet.

Here's the keynote speech where Jobs announced it.

And here's Steve Ballmer from Microsoft explaining why he's not scared of it.

Ballmer talks tough, but if you look closely, you can see the thin glaze of terror-sweat shining on his head.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 19, 2007 at 10:44

Posted in Apple, Microsoft

Duff: iPod not just for music anymore

Duff: iPod not just for music anymore

Internet marketers love to make up words. Imagine going back to the ’80s and telling investors that our biggest companies would eventually have names like “Google” and “Yahoo.” But as new words go, “podcast” is one of the best.

The problem with new words is that they can scare off people who don’t realize how ordinary the technology is. Podcast sounds fancy when you hear it the first time, but a podcast is actually just an ordinary mp3 file, like any other music file you would play on your computer.

Podcast software checks a publisher’s server every so often to see if a new file is available. If it finds one, it automatically downloads the podcast to your hard drive. Then, depending on how you have it configured, the software can update your portable music player the next time you plug it in.

iTunes isn’t the only way to download podcasts, but it’s probably the easiest.

If you’re not ready to make the leap to iTunes, most podcasts can be downloaded manually and played with any kind of audio software.
Michael Duff

The real advantage of iTunes is the podcast directory you can access from the Apple store. Don’t worry, 95 percent of podcasts are free, and iTunes will warn you if something costs money.

Most podcasts are devoted to geek stuff – books like Harry Potter and games like World of Warcraft — but if you’re willing to poke around a bit, you can find podcasts on just about anything. A quick search of the iTunes music store turns up half a dozen podcasts about knitting and hundreds of podcasts about religion.

The newest version of iTunes introduces iTunes University, a collection of educational podcasts, including full academic lectures from Berkeley and Stanford. I personally recommend “Historical Jesus” and “Physics for Future Presidents.” You can also find some real gems at NPR.org.

NPR offers dozens of programs that we don’t get on our local station, and they’re all available as free podcasts. My favorite is a game show called “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” It’s a current events news quiz that is much, much funnier than it sounds.

So please, don’t let buzzwords scare you away from new things. Podcasts aren’t just for yuppies and college students. There’s a world full of information out there, and the iPod’s not just for music anymore.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 15, 2007 at 15:16

Posted in Apple, Columns, Podcasts