Should Apple Reconsider Licensing MacOS?

Back in the 1990s, Apple created an official clone program that allowed several vendors to legally make Macintosh clones.  The program lasted for a few years until Steve Jobs came back and stopped the program in 1997.  According to Jobs, the program was launched as a last-ditch effort to expand market share and to compete with Microsoft’s market share – an effort which by that time was impossible to do given Microsoft’s dominant position.  Instead, the clones had ended up eating away at the most profitable products Apple had – high-end mac systems.

Fast forward to today, perhaps the time is ripe for Apple to consider once again allowing legal Macintosh clones to be produced.  According to one estimate, Apple’s Macintosh products only account for roughly 11% of the company’s value, with the iPhone and iPad constituting nearly 70% of Apple’s valuation.  With computers no longer accounting for a substantial amount of Apple’s valuation, Apple has little to lose and potentially lots to gain in licensing the MacOS.

Apple’s profits no longer come from the Mac – they come from iOS and the devices that run iOS.  While the iOS App Store has flourished, the Mac App Store hasn’t had nearly the same growth due in part to the considerably smaller user base.  Adding millions of MacOS licenses (priced more fully near $100 rather than the cheap app store price) on various PC gear would have the potential to do the following:

  • Give Mac App store developers millions of more users to sell to
  • Give Apple a new revenue stream to provide growth – at the admitted risk of cannibalizing some mac computer revenue
  • Give I.T. administrators the ability to virtualize Mac OS Server in their heavily virtualized datacenters (VMWare ESX, etc)
  • Give Apple better control of how users interface between their iOS devices and their computers

This last bullet is a key one.  While some will use iOS devices as standalone devices, many others continue to use them as companion devices.  Apple’s software for Windows is absolutely horrendous.  iTunes is not only buggy but has so many user interface quirks that it doesn’t even feel like an Apple product.  When dealing with photos, it is clear that the proper computer companion application to use is iPhoto, but iPhoto only exists on the Mac.

In the end, I think people who currently buy Apple computers will still buy Apple computers because of what Apple is doing with industrial design, and those who may opt for Windows may give loading MacOS onto their computer a second look because of how well it works with their iOS devices and the Apple ecosystem they have bought into.

Choosing A New Laptop: Bucking The Trend

Today I finally purchased my new laptop that I have been saving for for over a year.  While Apple’s portable computers are increasingly sought after, I am bucking the trend and am ditching my Mac for a PC.

The laptop I chose was a HP’s latest Pavilion dv6t Quad Series, including the following configuration for less than $1600 which made it not only cheaper but much more powerful than the entry level 15″ MacBook Pro.

  • Intel Ivy Bridge i7 3610QM Processor @ 2.3 GHz. Apple doesn’t even offer Ivy Bridge at this time.
  • nVidia GeForce GT 650M Graphics (2GB GDDR5). Apple doesn’t even offer 2GB graphics at this time
  • 15.6″ Full HD Antiglare LED-backlit Display (1920×1080)
  • 750 GB 7200RPM HD + 32GB mSSD cache Intel Smart Response compatible. Apple does not offer SSD caching
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM, upgradable to 16GB
  • Bluray reader + DVD Writer.  Apple does not offer Bluray as an option
  • Backlit keyboard
  • 2 year warranty with accidental damage protection. Apple does not offer accidental damage protection

Many will argue that what makes a Mac truly valuable is the OS as well as the quality of the hardware.  This certainly used to be true, however I am no longer certain that this is the case.  I have not been impressed with Mac OS 10.7 “Lion” and I am not getting excited about any currently announced feature in OS 10.8 “Mountain Lion” with exception of perhaps Gatekeeper.  In recent years Apple has gotten careless with its quality control, having released several extremely buggy software releases (1,2,3,4).  In the meantime I’ve noticed an increasing amount of innovation from Microsoft, and I’m looking forward to trying out Windows 8 when it comes out later this year.

This doesn’t mean I’m ditching Apple from my household, as Apple will still reign supreme on my other family computers for the foreseeable future. However, my laptop of choice this time around is for more bang for my buck.  HP, don’t let me down!

Previous in Series
Part 1
Part 2

Will Samsung Step Up And Challenge Apple?

Apple has established itself as a clear industry leader for consumer electronics.  It has market-leading devices in every hot category and has even created some of the categories themselves.  Apple sparked the smart phone revolution with the iPhone, sparked the tablet computing revolution with the iPad, and has put up impressive sales figures for its Mac personal computers in recent quarters.  To date, no one has truly tried to take Apple head-on, but if they choose to do so, I think Samsung would have a good chance.

Samsung competes in many of the same categories as Apple and is generally reviewed favorably for its products.

Product Apple Samsung Comment
Smart Phones iPhone Galaxy Android Phones
Focus™ Windows Phones
Apple owns iOS, whereas Samsung makes phones that run both Google’s Android OS as well as Windows Mobile.
Media Players iPod, including
iPod Touch
Galaxy Player (Android powered) Apple ignited the media player revolution, however this segment is becoming less and less relevant with Smart Phones taking over.
Tablets iPad Galaxy Tab Apple waged a legal battle against Samsung, and lost.
Television Apple TV Where do I begin? Samsung has a clear lead here, with Apple only currently considering this field a hobby, though that could change.
Laptops MacBook Air
MacBook Pro
Series 9
Series 7
Samsung has done a lot of copying of Apple’s industrial design and offers similarly spec’d products for hundreds less than Apple.  I’d like to see Samsung take a more leadership role.  The Series 7 Slate may be a start.
Desktops Mac Mini
All in Ones I am purposely leaving out the heavily overpriced, outdated, and rumored to be discontinued Mac Pro here.

Samsung has thus-far done an excellent job of playing in Apple’s shadow and following the trends that Apple sets, however with Apple’s emergence as such a huge player in the market I’d like to see Samsung take a more aggressive posture.

A perfect place to start for Samsung would be in its television business.  It’s “Smart TVs” are an okay start, but they are priced too high and need a better user interface in order to compete against what Apple is sure to cook up.  I’d encourage Samsung to consider obtaining an exclusive license to Microsoft’s Kinect technology and for integration into their Smart TVs.  Kinect-style interfaces are incredibly natural and intuitive and would be a great selling point.

Samsung matches up well against Apple also in the mobile chip business.  Whereas Apple designs its own A-series chips for its products, Samsung designs – and manufactures, it’s Exynos chips.

Samsung is well set up to compete head to head against Apple.  No other company has a platform that matches up as well against Apple and has the manufacturing power to match and beat Apple’s buying power.  The industry needs someone like Samsung to give Apple some stiff competition to keep technology advancing forward and prevent an industry Goliath from running rampant and claiming it is the only company that can innovate.

Quad-Core Assumption Of A5X Premature? Event Confirmed For March 7

Further investigation of the images leaked by BGR has led me to believe that it was incorrect for BGR, the community, as well as myself to assume that the CPU (now known to be the A5X) shown in the screenshots is quad-core.  It appears the assumption came from four lines that show the text “Found Chip ID …”.  While the lines are prefixed with “[NAND]“, this was glossed over and it was assumed that this indicated a quad-core chip.  In reality, even current phones have these lines present (example of the A4-based iPhone 4), so it seems these lines simply represent the NAND flash chips.

The A5X may indeed be quad-core, however it would be an incorrect conclusion to make from the screenshots leaked by BGR.  In any regard, we will know in about a week, as Apple has issued invitations to the media for a March 7 media event where the iPad 3 is expected to be announced as well as an updated Apple TV.

Next Apple Processor To Be Branded A5X

As previously predicted by TechPerfect, the next A-series processor by Apple will not be branded “A6″ afterall, but rather “A5X”.

A chinese forum post has depicted what appears to be a board from the upcoming iPad 3 which clearly shows the main processor as an A5X.  The processor is believed to be quad-core, but Cortex-A9 in design.  Apple’s A5 chip is also Cortex-A9 in design, but is dual core.  The chip also likely uses an upgraded graphics engine.

Apple is believed to be introducing the iPad 3 on March 7.

15 and 17″ MacBook Air To Replace MacBook Pro? Reality Check

Last year there were reports (February - iLounge, April + June - MacRumors) that Apple would be redesigning the MacBook Pro this year to make it more in line with Apple’s MacBook Air line.  This past week, AppleInsider added its own rumor to the mix that suggests an Air-like redesign will take place with the introduction of Ivy Bridge in the coming months.

It’s hard to ignore such claims from high-profile sites, however it’s important to keep in mind the implications that such a change would have on the capabilities of the machine:

MacBook Air MacBook Pro (15″)
Dual core 2677M i7 max config. option
TDP: 45W
Quad core 2860QM i7 max config. option
RAM 4GB max DDR3-1333, non-upgradable 8GB max DDR3-1600, user upgradable
Graphics Integrated Only Integrated + Discrete Graphics Switching
Storage “SSD stick” up to 256GB, limited upgrade options available 5400RPM 750GB HD standard, SSD options available, user upgradable
Other Backlit Keyboard
Memory Card Reader (13″ Model)
7 hour integrated battery
Backlit Keyboard
Optical Drive
Memory Card Reader
7 hour integrated battery

While Apple may have been able to make some adjustments to increase the capability of the machines as the size expands to 15″, users should still not expect to see 45W TDP processors in any Air form factor.  The only other announced mobile quad-core option lower than 45W TDP is the 3612QM i7 which comes in at 35W TDP, still significantly more than the current models’ 17W.  Therefore, the proposed model is likely to be stuck a dual-core (with HT) 17W model such as the 3667U, which clocks at 2.0 GHz.

Also, while Apple will likely be able to match the current model’s 8GB of RAM, Apple will likely stick with Integrated graphics for power and space savings.

Apple may indeed be considering releasing a 15″ MacBook Air, however I have large doubts in corresponding rumors that Apple would also seek to consolidate the lines into one – at least anytime soon and certainly not within a year like AppleInsider has claimed.  I believe it is much more likely that the 13″ MacBook Pro may be sunset and 15″ MacBook Pro and MacBook Air will be sold together for some time as Apple sees how the market reacts.

Apple’s Next A-Series Processor to be Quad Core Cortex-A9

Update: Please read the follow-up article.

This week, BGR leaked photos of some debug software running on a pre-production iPad 3.  If the information is to believed, the next A-series Apple processor will indeed be quad-core, confirming rumors that have been swirling for months.

Also included in the photos is, for the first time, confirmation of which processor Apple will be using in the iPad 3: an A6 processor with model number S5L8945X. For reference, the Apple A4 model was S5L8930X and the A5 is S5L8940X. The new processor will also apparently be a quad-core model, making the upcoming iPad 3 the fastest iOS device ever, we have been told.

Reading into the CPU’s model number suggests that the upcoming chip will be of the Cortex-A9 variety: essentially a quad-core variant of Apple’s current A5 used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, though potentially paired with a faster graphics core.  nVidia and TI are already making inroads towards releasing chips based on ARM’s latest mobile platform, the Cortex-A15, with TI previewing OMAP 5 and nVidia’s Tegra 4 “Wayne” series launch set for this year.  Devices based on both of these chips should arrive by late-2012 or early 2013.

Most of the Apple community is already calling the next chip the “A6″, however there has yet to be any solid proof that this will in fact be the naming convention used by Apple.  The name “A5 Quad”, “A5 S”, or “A5+” could just as well be used as a nod to the fact that the same underlying architecture is being used.  Indeed, Apple’s decision to only increase the model number by 5 instead of 10 to reflect this fact could be telling.


Longstanding Issues With Home Sharing and AppleTV2?

We have been made aware of what appears to be some significant issues with Home Sharing and AppleTV 2.  Initially reported in March 2011, complaints have been piling up in various forums (Apple Discussion, MacRumors, MacWorld), reaching 37 pages and and over 550 replies on Apple’s own forums with a solution still yet to be found.

Users report that when playing media from their Apple TV, the media may begin to play but will “drop out” after a few minutes of playing, with the loading cursor appearing and never recovering.  The issue appears on both Mac and Windows versions of iTunes 10.2.1 and above.  The issue persists regardless of wired or wireless networks, firewall or no firewall, antivirus or no antivirus.  The only workaround is for users to have to close iTunes or disable home sharing and then reconnect the Apple TV, at which time the “clock restarts”.

Apple has yet to acknowledge the issue.  Apple has made periodic changes to the Apple TV 2 software, with the most recent software update (4.4.4) bringing only minor “performance and stability improvements” as well as addressing an issue with displaying some video content.

Home Sharing is a critical part of the AppleTV 2.  With only minimal on-board flash storage, users are use Home Sharing to stream content from an iTunes library on their local area network in order to play their content using the AppleTV interface.  Alternatively users can use AirPlay, however that requires controlling the content from another iOS device or the iTunes computer.

Top Tech Perfect Stories of 2011

Tech Perfect has only been online for less than a year, but some of the stories that we’ve run have gained some traction.  Here’s a highlight of some of the most popular stories linked to and searched on this past year:

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading over the past half-year or so!  Here’s some of the things we’re looking forward to covering next year (as well as things that happen to pass our way):

  • Ivy Bridge
  • The emergence of the “Ultrabook” and Apple’s next laptop designs
  • A TV Revolution coming? (reference)
  • Tablet computing evolution
  • ARMv8 – 64bit ARM

Where Are The ARM-Based SBCs?

I’ve had a good deal of experience with Single Board computers (SBCs).  Single Board Computers are smallish embedded computers, often coming in a 3.5″ form factor and used heavily in embedded industrial environments.

Advantech is a leading supplier of Embedded Single Board Computers, but as you may note, the only SBCs available are based on an x86 instruction set.  While dual-core Atom equipped SBC will set you back $304 (before adding RAM),  the Cortex-A9 based Pandaboard is available for under $200.

It’s important to note that the Pandaboard is not a direct replacement for the above-noted Atom-based SBC as the SBC has multiple network interfaces as well as support for higher speed serial I/O — such features are critical in the SBC market.  However, it does make one wonder why we haven’t seen ARM based SBCs?

One of the key requirements of an SBC is low power draw.  SBCs are often used in UL-certified environments, which they will be required to run for a certain period of time on backup batteries if primary power fails.  SBCs also may be used when the total available power for the entire system isn’t unlimited – think flight computers (link references a PPC based system).  Meanwhile, I have also witnessed first-hand how data computation requirements of SBCs can escalate as products mature.  ARM is a perfect solution for such a scenario.