Thoughts on the Mac App Store

With 1 million downloads in 24 hours, the Mac App Store is a resounding success. Overall, I think the MAS is a huge win for the Mac community, even if it does leave some developers and user unhappy with the resitrctions it imposes.

With a simplified way to shop for, pay for, and manage apps on their Mac, users are the clear winners here. Apple, along with several other developers, offered up some apps at considerable discounts. Aperture 3 for $80 (a product that still is offered in Apple retail for $199) is a steal. Pixelmator for $29 (a limited time offer, nearly half off the retail price of $59) is another great bargain.

In Aperture’s case, it remains to be seen what your $80 download gets you. I’m sure it will get you whatever updates are left in the 3.x line of releases, but with Aperture 3.1 the current version, I wouldn’t expect much more than bugfixes before Aperture 4 hits the scene. And when Aperture 4 is released, I doubt Apple will be giving Aperture 3 users who purchased from the Mac App Store free updates. But even if Apple retains the $80 price point, the Mac App Store is still a better deal than the retail boxed route. Aperture upgrades are currently $99. So even if you own Aperture 3 now (non Mac App Store purchase), if Aperture 4 is released at the same price point, it’s still a better price than Apple’s previous upgrade pricing. This is a huge win for customers.

Additionally, being able to purchase individual apps from the iLife and iWork suite gives customers more choice, and doesn’t tie and app they may want or need to an app they may have no intention of ever using.

Games

Gaming on the Mac has always been it’s achilles heel, especially when compared against the gaming ecosystem available to PCs. On iOS, gaming has been a huge strength. Now, imagine you are a game developer with an iOS game that does great business. You now have the option of taking that codebase and reporposing it for a Mac app. Think about the benefits of this: You can target 3 different platforms with extremely large installed bases, all while using the same developer platform and tools. Sure, each platform (iPhone/iPod touch, iPad, and the Mac) is different and may dictate that the game be modified to be a better citizen on that platform, but in a world where maximizing your invested time in a product can mean the difference between success or failure, I see this as a huge win for iOS game developers.

We already have 3 popular iOS games – Angry Birds, the Incident and Chopper 2 available with Mac versions. On launch day, the Games category was one of the most populated. I fully expect game and their resurgence on the Mac to be the big story of 2011.


Category: Opinion

Back it up

As a new year approaches, it is once again time to resolve ourselves to change behaviors we believe are destructive or unproductive. For many this means starting a new diet, or quitting smoking. All noble causes. However, if you use a computer, may I suggest a resolution that is just as important to the health of your PC?

Back up your data.

If you routinely use a computer, the chances are that you have files on it that if lost, would cause emotional or financial chaos in your life. Most people never think about a back up strategy until it’s too late. Trust me – if you have photos, movies or music on your computer, losing them forever would be devastating.

Backing up your data used to be a chore. Now there are several methods and mediums that can make backups painless.

Time Machine

Included with every installation of Mac OS X since Leopard (10.5). Time Machine is a “set it and forget it” type of backup, the kind that most people will benefit from. Buy an external hard drive, plug it in to you Mac, and you will be asked if you would like to use this drive as a Time Machine backup. Answer in the affirmative, and over the course of the next couple of hours, your Mac will backup your hard drive to the external volume. As new files are created/changed, those changes are written to the Time Machine backup automatically. Time Machine will keep as many revisions of files as it has room to, giving you the ability to go back to a file to a point in time easily, and retrieve the prior version and restore it.

Pros: Easy to setup and maintain. Intuitive interface for restoring single files.
Cons: Restoring the entire volume can take some time. Lack of configuration options make Time Machine a “take it or leave” solution.

Bootable Backups

Time Machine is great, but if your Mac’s hard drive crashes, you would have to replace that drive with a new drive, and then restore your back up from Time Machine to the new drive. This could put you out of commission for days, depending upon how big your Time Machine backup is and how fast your can replace the drive that failed.

If being without your Mac for any period of time means lost money or productivity, you probably want a bootable backup instead of (or in addition to) a Time Machine backup.

Using a tool like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper!, you attach an external volume to your Mac, fire up the software, and in no time, you are creating a perfect duplicate of your current hard drive that is bootable. Now, if your primary hard drive fails, you can boot from this backup and keep on working, or install a new blank drive and clone the new drive from your bootable backup, and be up and running in a fraction of the time it would take you to restore from Time Machine.

Pros: Fastest backup/restore option.
Cons: Doesn’t save multiple versions of files like Time Machine does.

Offsite Backup

Both of the above options, either separately or together, will provide a solid insurance policy for most computer users. However, there is one scenario under which both backups would be useless.

Since both backup scenarios above essentially dictate that your backup drive is kept close to the machine you are backing up, what would happen if your dwelling was involved in a fire, or a flood? Your data would be destroyed along with most of the other possessions.

That’s where offsite backups come in to place. For less than $60/year, you can backup your data over the internet to an offsite service provider. These solutions work in the background, and can set up a schedule where the transfer of files happens at a time of your choosing.

Players in this field include Carbonite, Mozy and Backblaze. All promise unlimited backup. Where they differ is in cost and restoration options. Because these backups are performed offsite, if your computer goes down, you will not have immediate access to your data. Imagine you have backed up 500GB of data. Restoring 500GB of backup over the internet is going to take some time. Luckily, most of these services offer the option of having a USB hard drive sent to your with your data. This additional service comes with a price, and still means that retrieving your data will take 3-4 days.

If your data totals less than 100GB, another option is DropBox. DropBox offers 2GB of free data backup and syncing, with plans offering 50GB ($9.99/month) and 100GB ($19.99/month) available as well.

Pros: Set it and forget it. Unlimited amount of data. Inexpensive.
Cons: Backing up/restoring over the internet is slow (even with fast connections). In my test, over a very fast Comcast cable connection, 600GB took over 3 weeks to back up. If you have a metered internet connection, your backups will eat away at your available bandwidth.

Conclusion

Any of these solutions is better than not backing up at all. All three offer a way to get your data back in the event of data loss. If your data is irreplaceable, I’d suggest using all three methods. If you aren’t concerned about restoring your data in a timely fashion and don’t have a metered data plan from your internet provider, an offsite backup solution will do the job. If your computer is your livelihood, using a cloning tool like SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner will have you back up and running in the least possible amount of time.

Personally, I use all three. My computer is my most essential tool for my job, and my data is irreplaceable. With all three backup solutions, I keep all the bases covered in case of any type of catastrophe.

Recommendations:

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex 2 TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive (currently $120)

Backblaze – Unlimited offsite backup ($50/year)

Carbon Copy Cloner – free download, donations encouraged.

SuperDuper! – free trial, $28


Category: Opinion

Apple 27″ LED Cinema Display Review

Once upon a time, Apple manufactured a whole line of monitors. Under the moniker “Cinema Display”, Apple offered a 20 inch, a 24 inch, and a 30 inch LCD display. All were highly regarded and well received. Then, in late 2003, Apple released the 20 inch iMac G4. It was their first all in one computer that exceeded 17 inches. Since then, the iMac has received increases in display size, all the way up to the current 27″ used in the top of the line iMac (2010).

During this time, Apple’s interest in free standing displays has waned. The line of Cinema Displays has contracted to just one offering. At first, it was a 24″ LED Cinema Display, much like the one used in the 2007 24″ iMac. This display was released in 2008, after the 24″ iMac had been on the market for some time.

So, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that once Apple made a 27″ iMac, that a 27″ LED Cinema Display would be far behind.

Luckily for us, it was.

The 27″ LED Cinema Display is currently Apple’s only external display. The message this sends from Apple is that if you want a Mac with a display less than 27″, you are better off buying an all-in-one, or getting your display from a third party. Fair enough. Apple makes a lot of money selling all-in-one computers, so it’s understandable.

Specs

The 27″ LED Cinema Display features the same 2560 x 1440 as the 27″ iMac. The display improves upon the original Cinema Display models, by removing the external power brick and leaving only two main cables coming out of the back of the unit – a power cord, and a cord that provides the Display Port connector, Mag Safe Power Adapter and a USB 2.0 cable. The display also offers 3 USB 2.0 ports on the back for expandability.

Unfortunately, USB ports are all you get. No Firewire, no SD card slots. For a display of this cailber, this is an odd ommission. At these prices, many buying these displays will be professionals in photography or videography, both of which make heavy use of Firewire and SD cards. Having extra ports for these on the display itself would have been greatly welcomed.

Viewing

If there’s one complaint I hear about the 27″ LED CInema Display, it is that it is too glossy. After debuting originally on the Macbook, Apple has spread glossy displays to their entire lineup. Graphic Designers in the print medium are usually the ones to lament the loss of a matte display, as the glossy displays tend to over staturate blacks and deep colors, which can present problems when trying to create color accurate work. If that describes you, then the 27″ LED Cinema Display is clearly not something you will enjoy.

Most people favor the glossy displays, and as far as glossy displays go, the 27″ LED Cinema Display is a stunner. With a 178º viewing angle, the display is clear from just about any angle. Text is sharp and colors are vibrant. I can’t remember ever seeing a computer display render an image this beautifully.

Audio

The display also features audio playthrough, thanks to the DisplayPort connector, which also can carry audio. While not super loud, it does provide the user an increased level of clarity and volume over the Macbook/Macbook Pro’s built in speakers.

There have been some users who have complained that the 27″ Cinema Display had issues with audio refusing to play after being connected for a period of time. These issues have been addressed with a recent firmware fix. In my testing, I have yet to experience any issues with audio dropping out.

Conclusion

As I write this, if you are looking for the largest, clearest montior for your Macbook/Macbook Pro/Mac Pro or Mac mini, the 27″ LED Cinema Display is the best display available. At $999, however, many will find it’s price off putting. 22 inch displays now routinely sell for $200 or less. There are also several 24″ monitors that sell for less than $400.

If you use a Mac mini or Mac Pro, you could purchase two smaller monitors and have more useable screen space at half the price. If you have a Macbook, you are only able to drive one external display, and in this case, a single larger external display is a better option than a smaller one.

It’s for this class of user that the 27″ LED Cinema Display is the best option available. If you can manage the nearly $1000 price tag, it is well worth it.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Pros: Amazingly clear, sharp display. Mag safe power adapter convenient for those with Macbook or Macbook Pro notebooks.
Cons:High price. Extra ports limited to USB – no Firewire or SD card slots.

Purchase the Apple 27″ Cinema Display from Amazon.com


Category: Reviews

Review: Henge Dock (15″ Model)

Christmas came a little early this year, as a long forgotten pre-order for the 15″ Unibody Henge Dock arrived at my door. Henge Docks has been a little late to the party with the 15″ model, but they are filling back orders and should have new stock on hand soon. So, is the $70 dock for your Mac notebook all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s see.

Construction

The Henge Dock is constructed out of white plastic. It’s not the classiest finish for a aluminum Macbook Pro, but it does the job. It’s obviously a much better match for the 13″ Macbook, but lets not split hairs. Apple’s keyboard and mouse peripherals make heavy use of white plastic, so the dock is not out of place in an Apple ecosystem.

My first concern with the Henge Dock was how well it would be able to support a 15″ Macbook Pro positioned vertically. I’m happy to say that the dock provides plenty of support. The base features a 2.5″ extension on each side that prevents the entire dock from wobbling or tipping over.

The Henge Dock provides cables that are specifically sized for the dock. These cables are threaded it to the dock, and tightened with a small allen wrench (included). On my particular model, the cables/ports covered are:

  • Ethernet
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Firewire 800
  • USB 2.0 (2)
  • Audio In
  • Audio Out

Henge Docks provides 3 different clip adapters to handle whichever variation of the Magsafe adapter you are using. the USB cables have extenders on the ends, so you can plug your USB cables right in to the cable wired through the dock. Unfortuately, the Firewire cable is not an extender, so be prepared to have a Firewire Hub or your Firewire device in close proximity to the dock itself. One thing that is not included is a SD card adapter. The Henge Dock will block access to the SD card reader, so if you use this port frequently, you will either have to purchase a seperate SD card reader, or un dock your Macbook Pro to use your built in SD slot. For a device that paid close attention to the small details, this was a unfortunate ommission.

5264507676 7a36919f38 Review: Henge Dock (15 Model)

One other note about the cable setup: If you are using a DisplayPort adapter to connect to your monitor, your cable grouping will be tight. There’s just enough room (barely) to accomodate the adapter. If you are connecting to Apple’s Cinema Display with a built in DisplayPort connector, your cabling will have more then enough room.

Once you have assembled the Henge Dock, it’s a simple matter of closing your Macbook Pro, and inserting it in to the dock. By clicking a connected mouse or keyboard, your Macbook Pro will awaken and you’ll be ready to go.

A couple of things to consider when using the Henge Dock:

  • With the Macbook Pro closed, the internal speakers, while still audible, will not be very loud. Be prepared to have an external audio solution when docked.
  • When closed, you won’t have access to your SD card slot. If you use this alot, be prepared to purchase an external SD card reader, or you will need to undock your computer to use it.
  • If you use a Macbook Pro hard shell, like the Speck case, it will not fit inside the Henge Dock unless you remove the shell.

All those issues aside, if you are looking for a more organized solution when using your portable at a desk, the Henge Dock delivers.

Conclusion: A well built docking solution for $70 ($60 for Macbook users) provides a quick and easy way to connect all your cables to your Mac notebook, while keeping your desk organized and cable clutter hidden from view.

Rating: Highly recommended (especially if you are a neat freak).

Link: Henge Docks Website


Category: Hardware

Back to the Mac Event: Predictions

Apple is hosting their “Back to the Mac” tomorrow. Obviously, this will be an event focused primarily on the Mac. Here’s my take on what we’ll see.

1. Preview of OS X 10.7 “Lion”. The invitation clearly shows a Lion behind the cut out Apple logo, so I think it’s safe to say 10.7 will be called “Lion”. I believe Apple will show us some of the main features slated to be in 10.7, and announce that it will ship sometime next summer.

Expect more UI elements from iOS to pop up in 10.7. Many of the rumors focus on the retirement of the Aqua scrollbars, in favor of iOS style scrollbars that are only displayed when necessary. Yes, please.

2. iLife and iWorks updates. I peg the updates of these apps as highly likely. Both are long overdue, and all signs from vendors point to their imminent release.

3. Macbook Air updates. Evidence points to a new model. I would love to see an 11.6 inch version of the Air, but I’m skeptical Apple would release such a product. I’ll place it’s release at 40%, while the revamped 13.3 inch Air is a lock.

4. Hopefully we’ll see a revamp or revision of MobileMe. Apple used to update DotMac every September. Apart from a Calendar revamp, we haven’t seen many MobileMe updates in the last 12 months.


Category: Rumor

Apple Reports Fourth Quarter Results.

Here’s the money quote that will have the rumor mill working overtime:

“We are blown away to report over $20 billion in revenue and over $4 billion in after-tax earnings—both all-time records for Apple,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPhone sales of 14.1 million were up 91 percent year-over-year, handily beating the 12.1 million phones RIM sold in their most recent quarter. We still have a few surprises left for the remainder of this calendar year.

Conventional logic has the Verizon iPhone appearing in January. Could this teaser mean it’s coming this year?


Category: Opinion

Glif – iPhone 4 Tripod Mount & Stand

New Kickstarter project for a tripod mount/kickstand for the iPhone 4. $20 pledge will get you a Glif shipped to you when the goal of $10,000 is attained (of which, nearly half is already pledged).


Category: Hardware,Links

Apple may surpass Exxon as most valuable company

Conventional wisdom is that it will happen, it’s just a matter of when. What I found interesting about this AP article is this passage:

That helps Apple in another way, too. Because users of iPads and iPhones are tapped into Apple’s iTunes store, where the company rents and sells movies and television shows, you could easily consider Apple a cable company as well. If you look at it that way, its base of 200 million customers makes it five times larger than Comcast Corp., the largest cable company in the United States.

Wow. I doubt Apple’s iTunes customers have the same average monthly recurring charges (MRC) as Comcast’s customers, but it is still a staggering number.

This is Apple’s ace in the hole for future growth. It’s also a competitive advantage that I don’t think will be trumped anytime soon by their competition in the mobile space.


Category: Opinion

Wget for Snow Leopard

For the Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard release, Apple removed and/or deprecated a number of command line tools. One of these is Wget. Wget is a command line tool for retrieving files from HTTP, HTTPS and FTP. Apple’s logic in removing Wget lies around the command line tool, Curl, which does pretty much the same thing as Wget.

However, if you need Wget, you’re in luck. Andrew Merenbach has created a package installer for Mac OS X 10.5 or higher. You can download it here.


Category: UNIX

My last Photoshop upgrade?

Like most professionals in the web development industry, I have tools that I’m required to know and use. For platforms, I have a choice between Mac OS X, Windows or Linux. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages, but any of these options can get the job done. As you can guess from the name of this site, I’m a Mac user. I have been since 1992.

Being a longtime Mac user also means that I’m a longtime Adobe user. When I used my first Mac in 1992, the software I used was mostly Adobe (with the exception of Freehand and MacDraw). Illustrator and Photoshop have been part of my toolbox for nearly 18 years.

I’ve owned Adobe products for nearly as long as I’ve owned Apple products. Even when I couldn’t really afford them (and while many in my age bracket were just pirating them), I’ve purchased Adobe’s software. I started with Adobe Photoshop 3, and purchased every upgrade through 7. I bought Adobe Illustrator 5 in 1995 and owned every version through CS3 (AI 13).

The last Adobe purchase I made was for Creative Suite 3 in 2007. I upgraded from my copy of Macromedia Studio MX 2004, which was the least expensive upgrade option available to me. Ironic, isn’t it? To get the best upgrade price to CS3, I had to use my license for a non Adobe product (Macromedia Studio MX 2004) over my license for Adobe Photoshop. Go figure.

Jump to 2010. To upgrade to Creative Suite 5 Web Premium from the Creative Suite 3 Web Premium is a whopping $799. I understand that covers upgrades for 9 applications, but really I only want upgrades for the core set. I don’t use Flash anymore, so I have no need to upgrade to the latest versions. I don’t use Contribute, so I don’t care about that either. I haven’t used Dreamweaver in years, so I don’t really want that either.

Really, all I want is Photoshop, Fireworks and Illustrator. You would think that I’d be able to upgrade just those applications.

You’d be wrong.

Adobe will not let you upgrade from a suite to an individual product. This essentially leaves me with no affordable upgrade path for my Adobe products.

So, with this new reality, I’m forced to re-evaluate my Adobe needs. Do I need Fireworks? No. The number of people who send me Fireworks files are zero. I used Fireworks as a quick prototyping tool. But to be honest, the Mac version has been buggy/crashy, and long standing bugs have yet to be addressed. In short, Fireworks was a want, not a need. So, it’s removed from the equation.

Then there is Illustrator. I do receive Adobe Illustrator files from time to time from people. Thankfully, most of them are on versions even older than CS3 (what does that tell you?), so I can probably make due with CS3 for a bit longer. So, it’s removed from the equation.

Which brings us to Photoshop. More than any other application, Photoshop has been the cornerstone of my career for as long as I can remember. When I was a print designer, to when I moved over to web design, Photoshop has been the tool that was almost always open on my computer.

Lately, that has changed a bit.

Mac OS X native image editors like Acorn and Pixelmator have come a long way in the last 2 years. Pixelmator, especially, has added some great features that I use daily, like Slices and Web Export. In basic image editing usage, Pixelmator:

1. Opens quicker.
2. Is easier to navigate.
3. Integrates better with standard Apple technologies (media bin, Aperture library)

Not to mention that Pixelmator’s developers aren’t behind some great big wall. You can email them directly. You will receive a response. You can log bugs with them. And amazingly – the bugs even get fixed!

A company the size of Adobe’s should have world class customer service. Instead, Adobe has some of the worst customer experiences in the software field. Hell, just ordering their products is an ordeal in figuring out which version you are eligible for an upgrade to, and what price you’ll pay.

Adobe has gone from a company that I want to give my money to, to a company that I will delay giving money to as long as I can.

At some point in the future, I will probably need to purchase Photoshop CS5 or it’s successor. But until I absolutely need to, I will hobble along with Photoshop CS3, and continue to use Pixelmator for every task it’s suited for. That currently stands at about 80% of what I used to use Photoshop for. If Pixelmator were to add vector tools and improve their text editing tool, that would probably reach 95%. At that point, I have little need for a bloated, aging dinosaur of an application like Photoshop.

Part of me is saddened by this. Adobe has become that friend that I used to hang out with on a daily basis, to a friend that I only call on when I absolutely, positively need something that only they can provide. And they are currently working themselves out of that position as well.

The only solace I find is in the new friend, who doesn’t do everything I need of him yet, but does enough that I think less and less of the old friend every time I use it.


Category: Opinion

About the author

A user of Macs since they had silly names like Performa and Centris, Theodore Lee is a techie who prides himself on his vast knowledge of all things Apple. OS X Factor was started in 2001 (originally as macosxcentric), and continues to churn out tips, tutorials, reviews and commentary on the tech sector.