iPod Touch, 6th Generation: A Teen’s Perspective

Both of my kids are addicted to social media and, by proxy, the devices made of aluminum and glass that provide access to them.

For the past several months, my youngest daughter has complained of a very sluggish third generation iPod touch. It was certainly getting long in the tooth; she couldn’t even install the latest version of iOS. The meager 8 GB of storage meant she had to continually uninstall and reinstall apps in the hopes of freeing up enough space.

Feeling her pain, I agreed to purchase her one of the new sixth generation iPod touch units from Apple. While some question the validity and purpose of a new, uber-fast iPod in 2015 (when so many people have opted for a smartphone), my daughter couldn’t be happier. Apps that previously would crash or exhibit extreme sluggishness now load and execute in record time.

ipod touch 6th gen

I’ll spare you the hardware spec details of the latest touch, but suffice it to say that it has twice the memory (a full 1 GB) of the fifth generation touch and the same processor chip as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Sometimes Faster Than the iPhone 6

However, because the touch features only a 4″ screen, not the 4.7″ and 5.5″ displays of the latest iPhones, it actually loads some apps faster than its phone-based cousin. The math is simple: The touch is simply pushing fewer pixels, meaning it can execute many operations, especially graphically intensive tasks, faster than a similar device sporting a larger display.

My daughter doesn’t care about the processing chips or memory configuration of her new touch. For her, it’s all about performance. When she swipes across the screen, how fluid is the display? How well does it keep up with her multitasking and hyper-fast keyboard entry? Do apps load instantaneously, without hesitation or stutter?

In all cases, the sixth generation touch excels. Those on a budget can get an entry-level 16 GB model for only $200. The latest generation iPod is also available with 64 GB of memory for $300 and tops out at a whopping 128 GB for another $100. Like all Apple devices, the touch supports Apple’s wireless wi-fi-based AirPlay system, allowing audio and video content to be cast to a supporting receiving device (such as Apple TV and many home theater audio/video receivers, like my 2012 Pioneer models).

Cheaper Than The Previous Model

Somewhat uncharacteristically of Apple, not only is the new touch sporting twice the memory and several times the processing power of its predecessor, but it’s also cheaper. The iPod touch fifth generation 32 GB model I purchased for my oldest daughter was $300; the new sixth gen model is only $250 for the same memory configuration.

church of apple for linkedin

The aspect of the sixth generation touch that is most beneficial to my selfiephilia suffering daugher is the vastly improved camera. Sporting a slightly dumbed down version of the iPhone 6 shooter, the latest touch captures beautiful high-resolution images and high-definition (1080 p) video. It even offers a 120 frames per second slow motion mode to further keep kids (and adults) entertained.

Because the unit relies solely on wi-fi for connectivity, it supports the latest home networking standards (for those who own routers that also support the latest protocols and fastest data transfer rates). And, of course, like almost all Apple devices, battery life is stellar.

Sexy Form Factor

All of this technical gadgetry comes in a package that is slimmer than previous generations. The thickness reminds me of the feel I get when holding an iPad Air 2, with the thinness just begging for applause. Like all Apple hardware, the sixth gen iPod touch is a sexy, fast beast that will satisfy even the most hard core user who doesn’t need the cell phone network connectivity delivered by a device like the iPhone 6.

While kids love the iPad and, to a lesser extent, the iPad Mini, they still cling to their most personal of devices, the one that fits in their back pocket. While all use cases vary, it seems that the most mobile of devices are the ones that both kids, teens, and adults most covet and with which they engage for the greatest number of hours.

I realize you might be eyeing a hand-me-down iPhone 4S or 5 for your teenage children, or possibly buying them their own iPhone 6. But for those who don’t need the additional data plan and device charges on their monthly phone bill—or who are typically within wi-fi range and willing to use Skype—the iPod touch sixth generation is a sleek, leading edge solution to the social media and image/video capture needs of today’s millennials.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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Apple vs. Lenovo: Devotion & Deception

The news of the Lenovo malware scare is simply another example of why I won’t use anything other than Apple products for my computers. Said Thomas Fox-Brewster from Forbes: “Lenovo might have made one of the biggest mistakes in its history.”

“By pre-installing software called ‘Superfish’ to get ads on screens, it’s peeved the entire privacy community,” continued Fox-Brewster. “Lenovo won’t want anyone to call it that, but Superfish has been described as a piece of malware, or an adware pusher, that the Chinese firm pre-installs on consumer laptops.”

lenovo-superfish-malware

Which is why all the computers in my house come from Apple. No, Apple isn’t perfect. Like cars, display panel TVs, and toasters, there’s no such thing as perfect.

Understanding mass production means comprehending that a certain percentage of units rolling off the assembly line will, for one reason or another, have a defect or problem. This includes everything from #2 pencils to the venerable BMW M5. Defects happen. Period.

Defects vs. Deception

Defects are accidental. Happenstance, if you will. Completely unintentional. Lenovo, however, engaged in deception and malice. After reading these first few lines of a TechCrunch article today, my sentiment regarding my computer choices was cemented:

Earlier this week, word started spreading that Lenovo had been pre-installing a sketchy adware program called “Superfish” onto many of its Windows PCs for months.

Then researchers started finding nasty vulnerabilities—namely, that Superfish was using some pretty ugly hacks to tinker with your computer’s encryption certificates, and doing so in a way that seemingly leaves your otherwise “encrypted” communications (everything that goes over HTTPS) unsecure whenever you’re on a shared WiFi connection (like at a coffee shop).

Preinstalling Sketchy Adware

“Lenovo had been pre-installing a sketchy adware program….” I really didn’t need to read beyond that first line of the article. I hear and read plenty of interesting things in the daily research for my writing. “Apple isn’t worth the extra money.” “Apple is too expensive.” “Apple is a rip-off.” “You’re just making Tim Cook rich; you’re a chump.”

tim-cook

But let’s read a bit more of that TechCrunch article. “Even without the security implications, Superfish was pretty sketchy. Its purpose? Catch Google search results before they hit your screen, then quietly modify them to include more ads.”

Yes, Apple products are certainly more expensive than Levono, HP, and Dell. But why do so many flock to Apple for their computing needs? I’ll admit, some do so only because it’s trendy or fashionable. These aren’t people who necessarily engage in a great deal of critical thought in deciding what computing device to purchase.

Can’t Afford Lenovo Crap

Then there’s people like me and many of my friends and colleagues. People who earn their living from the QWERTY keyboard sitting under their fingers. People who have children who rely on their income. People who can’t afford the bullsh*t coming from companies like Lenovo.

I’ve written in the past about how Apple products are superior. I even wrote about how I tried an Android tablet, only to have it croak on me within just a few months of purchase. I returned to Apple for my daily tablet needs. It’s the best thing I ever did.

macbook air for blog

The case of Lenovo is just another example of why professionals, and many who seek the best quality, reach out to Apple. Yes, there are the posers and dorks who just want to be seen with the “cool stuff.” But professionals don’t care about that. We focus on reliability, dependability, and performance. We can’t afford problems like Superfish and not being able to trust our computer vendor. We have enough vulnerabilities in our daily lives; inviting more just to save a few bucks is foolish.

Don’t Mess With the Work Truck

I call my laptop my “work truck.” Because it is. It’s my Ford F-350 pickup. And it better damn well get me to the job site every day. Lenovo may be the world’s biggest personal computer manufacturer, but it certainly isn’t the best. And, in striking clarity, it just proved it to the world.

“By this morning, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was urging Lenovo laptop owners to remove the tool.” Wow. When I read things like this, I smile, knowing I’ve made the right decision by positioning Apple as the default, trusted source for the computing needs of my family. My daughters will graduate from high school and emerge from my house knowing the value of their computing dollars.

download

For those of you boasting about how you saved a few bucks by going with Dell or Lenovo for your new laptop: Have fun with that (and worrying about if something like Superfish has compromised your communications or finances). In the words of Bryan Wakefield, a Lenovo customer who commented on the Forbes article, “Just purchased a Lenovo product for the first time this year. Might have to rethink that decision in the future.”

Rethink indeed. After the Superfish stunt on Lenovo’s part (all to generate a few bucks), more and more consumers are becoming aware of the true cost of “cheaper” when it comes to computers. Pay me now, or pay me later. That’s what my dad used to say. Like it or hate it, it’s reality. Lenovo just provided it.

Trust Your Vendor?

So choose your poison. Pay more upfront for a quality product that you can trust from Apple, or pay later in loss of privacy, hidden infections, vulnerability to hackers, even more ads, fear and panic, and whatever else has been surreptitiously loaded onto your PC.

Trust is the foundation of most relationships. Be it a marriage, business partners, or product manufacturers, how can you justify paying your computer vendor to lie to you and then hijack your personal computer—all while leaving it unsecured and open to hackers?

With Apple, I pay not only for quality and dependability, but also a seemingly invisible element that you won’t find installed on any hard drive: Trust.

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Curt Robbins

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Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:3d1

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related articles at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

Consumer Tech is the New Religion

I’m certainly not the first to declare it, but consumer technology is the new religion of the 21st century. With all due respect to your spiritual faith (or lack thereof), middle class consumers are quickly becoming technology zealots. Daily, we worship at the altar of social media and mobile devices.

Our prayers for the blessings of bigger displays, expanded storage, and thinner designs are picked up by wi-fi and Bluetooth as they’re synced with Heaven—up in the iCloud. We speak in tongues, hoping that our new car’s GPS system features voice recognition. If we lose our way, our guardian angels, Siri and Cortana, reveal the path to enlightenment.

church of apple

We ask for forgiveness for having neglected our children by spending too much time on Facebook or posting a nasty comment on Tumblr. We pray that we’ll be blessed with better lighting for our next Instagram photo of an especially good tuna sandwich, or maybe a stranger’s puppy.

Our churches are Apple’s iTunes, Google’s Play, and Amazon’s Prime media streaming and download services, including their holy app stores. To discourage dissenters from leaving the flock, our Bibles are often unreadable at a different church. Netflix and Pandora are two major exceptions, translating their scripture into every language under the sun.

There seem to be more religious wars within modern consumer tech than there are within religion itself. Richard Dawkins and Rick Warren have nothing on Larry Page and Tim Cook. What began as the “PC vs. Mac” platform war in the 1980s, punctuated by Betamax versus VHS, has evolved into Xbox versus Playstation, Android versus iOS, and Tesla Motors versus Toyota. Samsung, Sony, Google, Microsoft, and Apple take shots at each other on a regular basis. It’s Hatfield against McCoy—only this time they’re armed with touchscreen tablets and password-protected internet routers.

Sometimes these religious wars are monotheistic, like Apple’s closed ecosystem that offers both hardware and software from a single vendor. Other companies ask us to worship many gods, like the availability of Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android from a number of hardware manufacturers. Often, the battles are less proprietary and more philosophical, such as hydrogen-powered cars versus battery electric vehicles (kind of like Greek Mythology).

girls-on-their-phone

Some in the academic community agree. In 2010, ABC News reported that Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, co-wrote a paper “exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding Apple.” “[The company] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people’s lives that being part of a religious community could,” she wrote.

The vitriol and defensiveness in many factions of these religious schisms can become shockingly brazen and abusive, as if someone took the Lord’s name in vain—or peed in your Cheerios. The utterance of “Apple sucks” or “electric cars are stupid” is bad enough; the response is typically worse. Members of the choir routinely compete for “Most likely to have not graduated middle school.”

But we’ve considered only the religions themselves, not the priests at the pulpit. PC versus Mac, was, of course, Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Electric cars versus the established Luddites of Detroit is obviously Elon Musk versus…well, the established Luddites of Detroit (this one is a true David and Goliath metaphor). In terms of building their congregations, it could even be argued that Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg are running competing megachurches.

“Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular ‘gospel’ to our culture,” wrote evangelical Christian author Sean McDowell when Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO for health reasons in 2011. Even Christianity Today in January of 2011, in an article entitled “The Gospel of Steve Jobs,” wrote, “The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

“The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

The adoration bestowed upon the top executives of modern technology companies is like that of Southern Baptist parishioners during the rapture. We worship at the feet of charismatic pontiffs like Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, and Richard Branson. They’re our silicon saviors, and the only thing that shakes our faith in them is a dead battery or too many casserole recipes in our newsfeed.

android-fanboy

When it comes to mobile gadgets and streaming media, some of us even worship two gods—like a household with one Catholic and one Jewish parent that recognizes both Christmas and Hanukkah. These odd and overly open-minded people may sport both an iPhone from Apple and a Nexus 7 tablet from Google. Maybe they have a Galaxy S5 smartphone and an iPad. Hasn’t anyone told them that this is, basically, against the rules?

In the end, the best digital dogma is the one that suits your lifestyle, budget, and personal beliefs. Or the one with the coolest logo. But it’s your money going into the offering plate; worship with the company or platform of your choice.

And what about the sinners? You know, the gluttonous people at the airport who hog two outlets to recharge their devices, or the rude fanboys who leave flippantly disparaging comments on your carefully articulated posts? Well, there’s a special place in hell for them. A place where there’s a complete lack of extended warranties and app updates, where the only stores are Circuit City and RadioShack, and where they’re given only a PalmPilot PDA and a CalicoVision game console.

For eternity.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

Apple Watch: Out of Sync?

John C. Abell, Senior Editor at LinkedIn, recently published a blog post in which he suggested that society has nothing to fear from intelligent robots, a veiled reference to recent statements from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking about the future potential of artificial intelligence. Rather than robots or AI, Abell wrote: “Batteries will be the death of us.”

flip phoneWhile this brings a gentle chuckle, there’s plenty of truth in it.

Abell described how the first generation of cell phones (“feature phones”) sported replaceable batteries that lasted for days and could be swapped out at a moment’s notice. In other words, battery life wasn’t a concern. These devices, which had a core function of delivering voice calls to their owners, did so with efficiency and long periods between charges.

Core Functionality

This core functionality, however, was replaced when smartphones supplanted feature phones and scrolling through Facebook, watching YouTube videos, and—most significantly—perpetual texting became all the rage. The purpose of the silicon wonders in our pockets shifted dramatically. Yes, at their essence, they remained communications devices. But the functionality of a “phone” changed completely. And with it, battery life became a major concern, almost overnight.

Likewise, the functionality of watches is about to morph dramatically. Wrist-adorning devices that once delivered simply the time and date (and maybe a stopwatch or countdown feature, but still mostly only time-related features) are growing into small computers with elaborate sensors that offer continual connectivity to our other devices, like smartphones and tablets.

Practicality is paramount. I’m currently engaged in a book project involving the electric car market, and Abell made the perfect analogy between modern mobile devices and electric cars: Range anxiety. Back when we had mere feature phones with great battery life, fear of the device running out of juice rarely reared its ugly head. Ample power for our phones—or the lack of said electricity—was a non-issue.

apple watch clock faceIn this respect, the forthcoming Apple Watch may be two steps forward and one step back.

Pre-release reviews are beginning to indicate that only conservative use of the Apple Watch will deliver a full day on a single charge. Granted, despite the name, the Apple Watch is much more than a mere watch. Ironically, those who want to use it as a simple, but elegant and connected timepiece will be SOL. It will deliver very few hours of straight-up clock face display, depriving wearers the ability to simply glance at their wrist and see a ticking second hand.

According to 9to5 Mac, “We’re told that the Watch should be able to display its clock face for approximately three hours, including watch ticking animations, if nothing else is done with the device.” This reminds me of the primitive, yet disruptive, Texas Instruments watches that my father and grandfather began wearing and loved in the mid-1970s, almost exactly forty years ago.

The History

These first-gen digital timepieces featured bright red LED displays that required the wearer to press a button to briefly display the time—unlike their more advanced progeny, which featured continuous LCD readouts requiring no manual intervention to simply view the hour (that’s when Japanese Casio stole the crown from American Texas Instruments).

I recall my 6th grade math teacher, Mr. Musgrave, wearing one of the slightly inconvenient, but very popular, Texas Instruments LED models. My memory of this is distinct, simply because it was readily apparent whenever he took his right hand and pressed the display button on his left wrist to tell him how much time was left in the class period.

TI red digital watchI can imagine proud new Apple Watch owners nervous to show it off, afraid it will die before the end of the business day. The Apple Watch may be like a Nissan LEAF battery electric car restricted to traveling only 80 miles on a charge. Oh-so-nice and delightfully leading edge during that 80 miles, but then you have to plug it in and wait for your next playdate.

Great Gadget; Good Timepiece?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m an Apple fan and in love with (the idea of) the Apple Watch. But already we know that those acclimated to obtaining the time by simply looking down at their wrist will be in for a surprise—and recharging their watch every three hours if they do so.

As cited by Abell, 9to5 Mac also reported that the highly-anticipated Apple Watch will deliver “roughly 19 hours of mixed usage each day, but that the company may not hit that number in the first generation version.” “Mixed use” means that the watch display is mostly off and that it’s sucking only a small trickle of juice from the battery so it can receive notifications from the wearer’s iPhone or iPad.

It’s becoming clear that the Apple Watch, at least in its first iteration, will work well only within particular use case parameters, sometimes limiting its practicality. No continually displayed time. No hours of full-bore app use. No playing Angry Birds: Watch Edition on the trip to Grandma’s house on Sunday.

apple watchIt’s beginning to sound as if this miraculous little device, which in so many respects will be uber-cool, will also be hobbled by today’s relatively primitive battery tech. It’s sad that such a great gadget will be limited by a battery that hasn’t quite evolved to meet the needs of wearables that are extremely small, yet sport bright, high-resolution displays, relatively powerful processors, and juice-draining wireless connectivity.

Slowly Getting There

The energy density of batteries, for both cars and small mobile devices, is increasing rapidly. While I’m convinced that this first-gen Apple Watch will change the industry and perform miraculous feats of silicon syncing, it simply won’t suit all use cases or please all customers.

Remember the Oscar-winning 1967 film The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman? Remember the infamous post-college poolside investment advice from the family friend during the graduation party at the beginning of the movie?

“I just wanna say one word to you. Just one word.”

“Batteries.”

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:home theater book cover for blog footers

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

It’s 2015: Stop Your Whining

Remember the old days, when you would struggle with Windows 95 or Windows 2000 to get it to properly load, say, a printer driver? Remember the love/hate relationship you had with Redmond’s Richest (Microsoft)? This schizophrenic emotional state was elicited by the relative convenience afforded by use of the Windows graphical user interface paired with the frustration of abundant software bugs and things like plug-n-play that certainly plugged, but often didn’t play.

windows 95 logoUse of Microsoft’s products and services, specifically its operating system and the applications found in MS Office, was a double-edged sword. On one side was convenience, speed, and user-friendly operation. On the other was buggy software, cumbersome tech support, and almost daily frustration—typically resulting in language befitting a drunken sailor.

Welcome to 2015. We’re officially 15 percent of the way into the 21st century. No longer do we marvel over smartphones and digital cameras. No longer do we say “Wow, that 42-inch flat panel sure is amazing.” No longer do we dream of a future of electric cars, smartwatches, thin touchscreen tablets, and free global video conferencing.

We’re home, Toto. All that cool stuff is here. And much of it is either free or very cheap.

After all, who could have imagined free video conferencing (using services like FaceTime and Skype)? When I was a kid, I recall my CPA wannabe grandmother always cutting short long-distance phone calls because of the expense and metered billing rate. We now conduct high-definition video conferences—of any length and with folks around the world—for free and on a regular basis.

But our technical schizophrenia remains. Spurred by relentless online ads and spotty wi-fi, our frustration seemingly won’t abate. Yet, we love the Google search engine and the magic of Twitter. But isn’t my laptop too hot? Why won’t it rip this CD? It did it last week. And why can’t I remember the password for my secret email account?

When thinking recently about our fickle use of technology, I realized something: Google has replaced Microsoft as our evil bipolar technological stepmother. The Silicon Valley giant, whose name has become synonymous with looking up stuff on the internet, is something that we think we can’t live without—but that we also curse on a regular basis. I’d hate for someone to steal or damage my Chromecast media streaming dongles. Yet, I want to throw them across the room when they drop the Pandora stream for the fifth time in two hours.

google_logoAlyce Lomax at The Motley Fool, way back in 2006, described Google as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In my blog post Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot from September 2014, I pointed out how Google loves to experiment with a variety of products and services. From “smart” contact lenses to self-driving cars to huge balloons intended to bring internet access to undeveloped nations (and, with it, ads from the company’s search engine and other services), Google has its hand in a very wide range of products.

It’s almost as if the iconic Silicon Valley company doesn’t trust its ability to succeed in any one area. Maybe it’s so keenly aware of the fierce competition and incredible challenges of the technology that it gets involved in dozens of product areas with the hope that a few will actually pan out.

But everything is relative. Our love/hate relationship with Microsoft from yesteryear was based on the pervasive nature of the company’s operating system and software. Windows was everywhere. Very few people used Macs back then (hell, there wasn’t even a version of Microsoft Office for the Mac, so you can barely blame them). It was all MS Word and Excel and Windows XP. All of which sported some pretty serious bugs. We felt trapped.

Today it’s a bit different. I was recently frustrated when using Google’s URL shortening service for links within tweets. I found that, somehow, I had violated Google’s terms of service and it invalidated one of my URLs, giving my tweet, going out to hundreds of thousands of users, a dead link. Fine, I thought, and switched back to Bitly. Frustrated by the amount of paid links at the top of the results page for Google’s search engine, I switched to Duck Duck Go. Not happy with my sluggish, stuttering Nexus 7 tablet running Google’s Android mobile OS, I switched back to an iPad from Apple.

The difference today is that there’s options. Back in the day, those frustrated by Microsoft Word or PowerPoint had few alternatives, none of which were ubiquitous enough to make the switch feel practical or intelligent. But if you’re fed up with your Nexus tablet or your Android-powered smartphone gets wonky, there’s ready alternatives from companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry.

Unlike Microsoft’s stranglehold on us back in the 1990s, Google can no longer hold us captive.

So welcome to 2015 and the age of tech options. Don’t like the ad-laced Google search engine? Switch to Bing or Duck Duck Go. Don’t like the Goo.gl URL shortener? Use Bitly or TinyURL. Getting frustrated by your Android-powered smartphone or tablet? Give Apple or Nokia a try. Don’t like Google Maps? Try AOL’s MapQuest or Apple Maps. Don’t like Gmail? Try Outlook or Yahoo (or the messaging built into Facebook or LinkedIn). Not digging Google+? Try Facebook (ok, every human already did that…sorry).

But stop your whining and don’t feel trapped. Because there’s plenty of alternatives to the products and services you’re currently using.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Apple: The Myth of Too Expensive

[Updated July 31, 2015]

I often have friends approach me asking for purchasing advice for consumer tech products like computers, TVs and home theater gear, and home automation gadgets. I try to be as objective as possible. But my advice often involves recommending an Apple product.

Typically, the first response I get is “But Apple stuff is so expensive.” I’m not claiming this is a wholly undeserved reputation on the part of Apple. But one doesn’t get a Porsche for the price of a Prius. Better gear costs more. Period.

Proving It

apple tv for blogHowever, the perception that Apple’s products are vastly more expensive than the competition is, for the most part, a myth. In this short blog post, I’ll prove it.

First, let’s take a look at the increasingly crowded market for streaming media set-top boxes. One can choose from Apple TV, three Roku models, Amazon Fire TV, and others. All of which are priced at $69. I’m not going to argue that Apple TV is the best in this category; that’s for you to decide. But it’s certainly as good as the others. One’s particular lifestyle and the entertainment and hardware ecosystem into which they’re vested really determine the best choice.

I probably receive the most proclamations of Apple being too expensive in terms of personal computers. Yes, you can spend thousands on a MacBook Pro with Retina display (optioned out, one of these little beauties sells for more than $3,200) or a Mac Pro (the 6-Core model with dual GPU starts at $4,000). But these models are at the top of their classes—and are probably the best available in their respective categories. They’re extreme examples from Apple’s catalog.

237844-apple-macbook-air-11-inchMacBook Air

A more reasonable consideration is the MacBook Air. Apple’s svelt and most popular thin-and-light notebook computer (it’s barely thicker than the iPad) starts at $900. Apple quality and reliability for under $1,000 is quite a deal. I realize it doesn’t work if your budget tops out at $500 or $600. But remember the value of your time when that discount Dell or HP model croaks and you’re faced with hours invested in tech support, returns, and maybe exchanges. Not to mention lost productivity and sheer frustration. Time is money.

Mac Mini

For desktop computing, there’s the Mac Mini. Beginning at $500, this dependable little PC is the least expensive way to jump into the OS X universe without breaking the bank. At only 7.7 inches across, this cold aluminum square can deftly handle the computing tasks of the vast majority of consumers. Yes, you still have to add your own keyboard, monitor, and mouse or touchpad. However, this can actually save you money by allowing you to use peripherals you already own or less expensive competing models—although I recommend Apple across the board for these items also. (The exception is the monitor, where a much wider variety of non-Apple models can be had for a fraction of the cost.)

iphone5c-gallery2-2013iPhone 5S & 5C

And then there’s the iconic iPhone. I realize everyone wants the latest and greatest in mobile gadgets. But technolust aside, there are some great deals to be had. You can get an arguably superior Apple phone for less than many Android models. For example, take last year’s models, the iPhone 5S and 5C. On a two-year contract (the way the vast majority of consumers in the United States obtain smartphones), the 5S can be had for only $100. And the 5C can be obtained for…wait for it…free.

The next time you hear someone complain about the absurd prices of Apple’s products—and especially if they use it as an excuse for purchasing or recommending inferior products from competing companies—kindly inform them that they can have their Apple and eat it, too.

And, for goodness sake, stop imagining bloated pricing where it doesn’t exist. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my work done on my Mac Mini so I can binge watch Deadwood on HBO NOW this evening using my Apple TV….

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Curt Robbins

[For more of my Apple rants, check out Back to Apple, Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot, and Need a Computer? Think Apple.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Need a Computer? Think Apple

A friend recently approached me with a request for help in purchasing a new laptop. She knows that I’m a technical writer and said she wanted the best bang for the buck—and that she wasn’t afraid to pay for quality. Knowing her needs as a grad student and being familiar with her overall lifestyle, I immediately recommended Apple’s Macbook Air (it should be noted that she owns a desktop iMac, of which she’s very fond).

She then admitted that she had her eye on a Levono Yoga. Although I’ve never owned a Lenovo product, I cringed. It wasn’t just because I had no experience with the company or its relatively new schizophrenic laptop-cum-tablet. It’s because she wanted something that wasn’t from Apple. But, lest you think I’m simply a bigoted fanboy, let me explain….

macbook air for blogI’ve owned laptops since 1988, when I got my first grayscale Zenith SupersPORT 286 in college. More important, I’ve experienced nightmares with quite a few brands and models. Topping the junk list are Dell, Toshiba, and HP. I’ve owned desktop and laptop computers from all, many of which experienced serious problems. [Because my blog doesn’t accept advertising revenue, I can actually be honest about these products.]

Forget Toshiba

A certified repair tech confided in me that Toshiba had a known design flaw that resulted in overheating in the particular model I owned—which caused the unit to spontaneously shut down (always nice when I’m in the middle of document or video editing). Instead of fixing the design problem, Toshiba chose to simply replace the motherboard. Twice. Each repair resulted in similar headaches; the problem never really abated.

Forget Dell

After purchasing a top-of-the-line Dell XPS laptop in 2011, I had to spend countless hours fighting the Austin-based company to get two—count ’em, two—replacements (very similar to the Toshiba nightmare). The second replacement’s Blu-ray player died after only a week; the tech who replaced the drive couldn’t get it to work and cited a bad motherboard. Even the second replacement (third overall unit) experienced problems.

Can you say quality in the crapper?

If I wanted to consider myself a good person, I wasn’t going to allow my friend to walk into a similar situation. However, to save a few bucks—and because she was intrigued with the Yoga’s design—she went ahead and got it. I cringed a second time. Oh boy, here we go, I thought.

Sure enough, after only a week or so, she experienced problems with the Yoga and decided to return it. Thankfully, she made this decision within the 30-day return window and didn’t experience any hassles from the reseller.

And with what did she replace it? A MacBook Pro. I smiled and breathed a sign of relief, knowing she would have several years of dedicated service and a great user experience.

Proof in the Pudding

When I was consulting for USAA in San Antonio, I produced a ton of training videos for the company’s IT department (we created nearly 700 in just over three years, in fact). I don’t cite that number for bragging rights; I mention it to reveal the intense dependability and reliability of the two computers I used to do most of that video production: A late-model MacBook Pro and a 27″ iMac.

(BTW, video editing is basically the heaviest lifting your computer can do. It’s the true test of the reliability and power of a PC.)

Prior to the instructional designer/video producer gig at USAA, I had never owned a Mac. Many of my friends had, though—all of whom raved about their precious Apple hardware as if they had drunk a gallon of the Cupertino Kool-Aid. Their zealotous enthusiasm for their Mac computers was almost frightening.

One friend described how her late-model Mac laptop, one of the old white plastic models, had literally not been turned off or rebooted for years. She worked long hours as a nurse and simply closed the lid when she left the house (Apple’s operating systems have always been based on Berkeley UNIX, the most stable, solid OS in the world).

apple logo for blogI now own a Mac Mini. My kids log some serious hours on this machine and give it a strong workout with all the streaming video they watch on YouTube and Netflix. The Mini is rock solid, has been rebooted only a few times in the past two years, and basically never experiences tech glitches. It’s so problem-free, in fact, that my kids pretty much forget it’s even there. The “computer” seems to be the display and mouse. Ah, a computing experience the way it should be: Trouble-free.

Hello MacBook Pro

My laptops, unfortunately, aren’t Apple products. They’re still functional and get the job done, so I can’t justify the purchase of new units yet. But when one of these Dell POS laptops bites the dust (which you know won’t take all that long), I’m headed directly to apple.com or my local Apple Store and picking up a Mac.

While most known for its iconic and ubiquitous iPhone and iPad lines, Apple makes the best computer hardware (and software) in the business. Period. The slight uptick in price is well worth it. (One of the hallmarks of failure in life is the inability to understand the value of one’s time; servicing and replacing defective laptops is no walk in the park.)

The next time you or one of your friends is in the market for a new laptop or desktop computer, seriously consider a Mac and stay away from the HP, Toshiba, and Dell models. If the slight increase in price concerns you, realize that a MacBook Air can be had beginning at $900. Under $1,000 for a brand new MacBook Air that’s barely thicker than a freaking iPad.

Don’t allow uninformed friends and co-workers to talk you out of a Mac because it’s “too expensive.” That’s just culture war crap and haters talking. Sometimes-immature Apple fanboys boast about having superior hardware and software, while Windows users do the same. It becomes a pissing match comprised of 12-year-olds.

Then again, if you’re a masochist, jump on that discounted Dell and smile knowing there’s a good chance you’re in for a bumpy ride. It’s your money. It’s your time.

Spend both wisely.

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Curt Robbins

[For more of my Apple rants, check out Apple: The Myth of Too ExpensiveBack to Apple, and Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Streaming Media Stick Wars

3d1It began in August 2013 when Google introduced the Chromecast. A small, Rubenesque HDMI dongle that allows you to stream music and video to your TV or home theater, the $35 Chromecast was an instant hit. This groovy petite player allows popular media services like Pandora, YouTube, and Netflix to easily be sent to your home theater from any Android or Apple smartphone or tablet—and even laptops and desktop computers.

Then, in the spring of 2014, Roku introduced the $49 Streaming Stick, a slick little purple dongle that, like Chromecast, plugs into a TV or AV receiver’s HDMI port to bring you music and video streaming from the internet. Roku likes to tout how its dongle is “perfect for wall mounted TVs”; as are all of these svelt mini-streamers. Although slightly more expensive than its competition from Google, Roku’s streaming stick offers a dedicated remote control and so many more channels it isn’t even funny (like, um, 1,700 more, something Roku fans love).

Recently, the market for these mini-streamers got more crowded when Amazon announced the Fire TV Stick, the $39 dongle that falls between Chromecast and Roku in terms of price. Like Roku’s Streaming Stick, it features a nice, ergonomic remote. Unlike its competitors, Amazon sells a $40 game controller for the Fire TV Stick that allows you to play more than 200 different games. If you’re a casual gamer (as opposed to someone who needs an Xbox or Playstation to engage in their favorite first-person shoot out), the Fire TV Stick, with optional game controller, is a unique solution. It’s also pretty much the least expensive way—at $70 total—to get gaming into your living room.

rock streaming stickFor the most part, these inexpensive media streaming devices are more similar than different. They all plug into HDMI ports and require a dedicated power supply (they can’t get their juice from the HDMI port), so you’ll need a spare outlet around your TV or home theater gear. They all use wi-fi to ride on your broadband connection and suck down their audio or video stream from the internet. And they all offer major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and a handful of streaming music services.

One thing all three of these streaming dongles have in common is being the little brothers to full-fledged “set-top box” media streamers from each company. Google’s new Nexus Player, the Roku 3, and Amazon Fire TV, all priced at $99, take streaming media to the next level, offering more robust features and functionality. Apple is the standout in offering a similar ($99) set-top streamer called Apple TV, but no HDMI dongle variant. One of the biggest advantages of these full-fledged media streamers—with the glaring and inexcusable exception of Google’s new Nexus Player—is their ability to connect to your home network and the internet via Ethernet hard cabling, eliminating the interference and connectivity problems inherent in wi-fi.

Google’s Chromecast is the odd man out in terms of bundling no dedicated remote. Not that there isn’t one: It’s your mobile device. Because this trend-setting device is platform agnostic, it matters not if you use an iPhone, Android smartphone, Samsung tablet, or the venerable iPad. Any Android or Apple smartphone or tablet works with Chromecast.

chromecastBut let’s be realistic, it’s all about the content. As sexy as the candy wrapper might be, what we really care about is the chocolate. Roku’s Streaming Stick offers all 1,800+ channels that its more robust sibling Roku devices deliver. This is, hands down, the largest selection of content offered by any company selling streaming devices. If you’re one of those consumers who blows away the average four hours of television programming consumption per day and desires the largest availability of channels possible: Stop reading this, look up the Roku Streaming Stick on Amazon, and click Add to Cart.

However, this plethora of channels isn’t all peaches and cream. Roku’s lineup offers hundreds of arguably crappy and often obscure channels, many of which are foreign language-based. According to PC Magazine’s review, “…individual channels are still a mish-mash and many aren’t integrated into the search feature, so you have to wade through a lot of things you might not want.” However, Roku wins the agnostic award for not twisting your arm to rent or purchase content from a particular ecosystem, unlike Amazon’s Fire TV Stick.

Speaking of the Fire TV Stick: This newcomer is perfect if you’re a subscriber to Amazon Prime and love to get your entertainment from Prime Instant Video. Like Apple TV, both Apple and Amazon do their best to push you into their respective iTunes and Prime Instant Video ecosystems.

fire tv stickGoogle’s Chromecast differs in terms of channel availability. Instead of serving up a canned set of channels, Google has created a platform on which other media streaming services can jump in if they choose. Thus, the Netflix and Hulu Plus mobile apps have been updated to support Chromecast. When running these apps, you simply tap the Chromecast icon and, voila, you’re watching it on your TV or home theater. The only problem—especially compared to Roku and Amazon—is that only about 35 streaming apps currently support Chromecast. However, if you’re like my cord cutting family and consume most of your entertainment from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Pandora, these major services all support Chromecast (in addition to Watch ESPN, HBO GO, Songza for music, Vevo for music videos, and, of course, iTunes wannabe Google Play Movies & TV).

So there you have it. Unfortunately, the game-friendly Fire TV Stick won’t be available until January 2015, so forget Santa leaving you one in your stocking (smooth timing, Amazon; what are you smoking out there in Seattle?). It’s nice to see the market for uber-affordable streaming media devices getting competitive and catering to different entertainment ecosystems.

And it’s only going to get better.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Home Theater Basics

3d1The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2: Home Theater Basics from my new book Home Theater for the Internet Age. This book isn’t for audiophiles or videophiles. If you’re an average middle class person who doesn’t know much about this topic, you outnumber the “experts” and home theater nerds by about 10,000 to 1.

I’ve always enjoyed helping people understand and embrace modern technology. In the case of home theater, this tech can bring together families in front of a big display panel for a new movie release on a shiny little disc—or, increasingly, streamed from the internet. You can enjoy family photos, MP3 songs, or home videos stored on a computer that resides nearly anywhere on your wi-fi network. All using nothing more than a decent Blu-ray player (playing discs covers only one-third the functionality of modern Blu-ray players, as you can learn here).

If nothing else, please understand that you can enjoy full surround sound, high-definition video, and all the glory of modern home theater on any budget. The most common misperception of home theater is that it’s too expensive and you can’t afford it.

But you can. Trust me.

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Curt Robbins


As consumers, we’re in the middle of multiple transition periods within the home electronics and entertainment industries. These changes are in the form of rapid advances in both hardware and services. It’s no longer uncommon for one to have a 60-inch display panel hanging in their living room, to be one of the 50 million people who watch movies and TV shows on Netflix, or to be among the 76 million consumers who listen to music on Pandora each month. These don’t constitute early adopter status in today’s world of home entertainment.

Since Apple introduced its iconic iPod line of portable music players in 2001, the human race has been slowly transitioning from entertaining itself by purchasing physical media, like optical discs, to instead downloading songs from iTunes or streaming movies or TV from services like Hulu or Vudu. Today the average consumer has more home entertainment options than ever—along with a more detailed and potentially confusing array of technologies and media sources.

What Defines Home Theater?

Let’s define a few things. First, a home theater isn’t mobile. It’s not a laptop with a set of headphones (even if the laptop features a Blu-ray player). Home theater is four basic components:

  • Display panel
  • Audio/video receiver
  • Blu-ray player
  • Five+ specialized speakers

These are the elements necessary for full-on home theater and how it’s defined in this book. Anything short of these elements doesn’t cut it in terms of home “theater.” While it could be argued that a set top box for bringing audio and video content into your home theater is a necessity, some cord cutters are perfectly happy with physical discs from Redbox, the Neflix disc-by-mail service, or a local video store.

One of the most common configurations for consuming TV programming and movies is a display panel TV with two input devices: A Blu-ray player and a cable/satellite set-top box (using only the speakers on the TV). Maybe there’s a game console or DVR thrown in the mix. But this also isn’t home theater (where’s the audio/video receiver and rear surround speakers?).

pioneer av receiver

Connecting Components

In the past, the task of connecting home theater components was confusing. Different components connected with different standards and there were separate connections for audio and video. For the layperson, connecting components was a headache and typically resulted in either a frustratingly botched job, professional installation (planned or unplanned), or scouring web-based forums desperately seeking help from others. Today it’s different. Now it’s all a single standard that transports both audio and video, and does it in Blu-ray-quality high definition: HDMI. Say it with me: H-D-M-I. It’s all you need to know.

Surround Sound

In terms of audio, the difference between a “stereo system” and a “home theater” is surround sound, which has been relatively common for well over a decade. Without a collection of surround sound speakers, home theater can’t exist. Today, a significant portion of broadcast and cable TV programming—and nearly all movies produced in the past decade—are delivered with a six-channel or greater audio mix that requires a surround speaker configuration and compatible audio/video receiver to be fully appreciated.

Discrete Channels

Surround sound isn’t just about adding more speakers in your living room. It’s about discrete channels of audio information coming from specific locations within your listening environment. In other words, the producers of a TV show or movie can purposefully make, say, the voices of the characters come from the speaker directly below your TV, where they’ll be the most realistic.

Meanwhile, background noises—such as barking dogs, slamming doors, and guns firing—can be directed to the rear speakers. The ability of content producers to utilize between five and twelve speakers in your living room, in a predictable arrangement, is why affordable home theater systems now rival the experience of going to a movie theater (and why commercial theater chains have to install football field-size screens with vibrating chairs just to get our attention).

oppo bdp-103

Content Services

Content services that deliver streaming audio, video, and even games to your living room home theater have proliferated like crazy during the past few years. What’s interesting is that most people have labeled this the evolution of the internet, not home theater.

It’s all convoluted today, part computer and part stereo system. We’re in the middle of the convergence of computing/internet technologies and the hardware, software, and standards on which video and audio are affordably reproduced in the home. Home theater simply does not live up to its potential without the internet and broadband connectivity. Netflix, YouTube, HBO Now, Pandora, Hulu Plus, Spotify, iTunes, and other internet-based services offer more content than you can ever consume. While your local liquor store might not sell you bourbon on Sunday, online streaming services are available on-demand, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Ello? Are You a Product?

ello logo for blogTim Cook, CEO of Apple, recently spoke out—in a thinly veiled jab at Google and Facebook in the form of an open letter to customers—regarding the fact that Apple doesn’t sell customer data to advertisers or other third parties. In a similar vein, a new social network has emerged that directly challenges ad-supported social media by claiming to never sell user data.

The service? Ello.

Ello is getting quite a bit of media attention. It’s an ad-free social media site that’s being labeled a potential “Facebook killer” and the “anti-Facebook.” While no competing social network will likely kill—or even put a significant dent in—Facebook in the near future, Ello’s emergence and the serious attention it’s garnering are a sign that social media is maturing and beginning to serve different niches.

Ello, still in beta, is a free service launched by artists and designers in Burlington, Vermont (where, symbolically, roadside billboards are illegal). It has been described as a hybrid of Twitter and Tumblr. On its website, the company states, “We believe a social network can be a tool for empowerment. Not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate—but a place to connect, create and celebrate life,” adding the Applesque, “You are not a product.”

Currently, Ello membership is available only via invite (although the service is still gaining 35,000 new signups and 45,000 invite requests per hour). New users are permitted to invite several friends. Unlike most social networks, Ello allows members to follow others as either “friends” or “noise” and doesn’t reveal how you’ve categorized them. Said one newspaper review, “Whatever the online version of ‘new car smell’ is, Ello has it.” This tone suggests that this relatively novel social network is special simply because it’s the new kid on the block—not because it’s truly disruptive in the evolution of social media. Which, of course, remains to be seen.

Echoing Cook’s message regarding customers versus products, the Ello Manifesto, posted on the company’s sparsely designed website, states, “Every post you share, every friend you make, and every link you follow is tracked, recorded, and converted into data. Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that’s bought and sold.”

Further indoctrinating potential users into its customer-focused, David-meets-Goliath culture, the company adds, “We believe there is a better way. We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership.” I love the sound of that—and sincerely hope Ello survives past its startup phase. I’d also like to know what Vermont verde these guys are smoking.

Media response to Ello has been mixed, but typically cynical or pessimistic. England’s The Guardian wrote, “We’re turning to the new thing because it’s new, not because it’s good.” CNET reviewed the nascent service with a similar tone: “Plenty of folks are dubious.” AL.com, although supportive of the site, reported, “It’s pretty likely, however, that Ello is a flash in the pan.”

Unlike competing services from LinkedIn and Facebook, Ello lacks a “Like” feature. No doubt this is in response to the fact that it’s one of the most efficient ways in which Facebook and LinkedIn collect user preference data to sell to advertisers. It also currently lacks user blocking and a mobile app. In fact, there’s plenty of features you might be habituated to using on social media that aren’t available in Ello—at least not yet.

If this service is free and there’s no ads, how does it pay for server farms and employee salaries? The company plans to begin offering supplemental “special features” to enhance the user experience. Surely they’re hoping that all of your friends will purchase some of these features and, if you don’t, you’ll suffer feature envy or be incapable of engaging in certain types of communication. Gizmodo said it well: “Think of [Ello] as a freemium social network.”

In the end, Ello might turn out to simply be a relatively short-lived phenomenon. At worse, it could disappear in a few months (after its initial venture capital runs dry). At best, it might gain tens of millions of users and subtly influence services like Facebook and the resuscitated Myspace. Some are speculating that interest in Ello doesn’t necessarily reflect an affinity for this new, hip social network, but rather a disdain for old entrenched players. As The Guardian’s Jess Zimmerman wrote in late September, “Entrenched social networks like Twitter and Facebook would do well to pay attention, because they’re the ships we’re trying to abandon.”

Time will tell if enough people abandon—or, more likely, simply supplement—networks like Facebook and LinkedIn to ensure Ello’s survival. Just the fact that it allows members to use alias names will surely help it gain a few million followers (aliases violate Facebook’s recently introduced “real name” policy that has infuriated members of the LGBT community seeking to avoid harassment). In the meantime, if you’re really curious, stop by Ello’s website and drop your name in the hat, praying to the hipster gods of this new social network for an invite to the party.

It’s refreshing that this newbie service isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to its competitors. “We’re not interested in ruling the world. We think people that are motivated to do things like that have unresolved psychological problems.” Well alright now.

But don’t assume that meteorological success for Ello would hamper the explosion of Facebook, which—at 1.2 billion global users—hasn’t even peaked yet. Also, if a sufficient number of members don’t buy extended features to feed the company cash, this hip service will die before it even gets a chance to appear on the radar of most Facebook or Twitter users.

Probably the best way of describing this quirky social network was provided by a commenter on Gizmodo: “THERE’S A NEW SOCIAL MEDIA OUR PARENTS HAVEN’T RUINED YET!”

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Curt Robbins

[Also check out a follow-up post: Ello in Real Life.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot

Apple’s success can be directly attributed to its intense focus on enticing design, superior build quality, and an overall excellent user experience. Yes, there’s the highly manipulated and hyperbole-laden product release press events. But despite all criticisms, few can deny that Apple’s products are either the best or among the very best available.

Unlike Google, Motorola, Samsung, LG, HTC, and many other Android-fueled smartphone manufacturers, Apple puts its considerable R&D and channel partner weight behind only two models—the last generation iPhone 5C and 5S and the current 6 and 6 Plus.

Only Two

Likewise, in tablets, Apple offers only two, the iPad Mini and the full-size Air. Desktop computers? Only three models: Mac Mini, iMac, and the brawny Mac Pro. Laptops? MacBook Air and the venerable MacBook Pro, two of the most popular computers in the world. Regardless of the number of products it its stable, Apple’s intense focus on the user experience and overall quality of its gadgets is an inspiration to the CEOs of both small startups and multinational corporations alike.

One thing Apple doesn’t do, however, is moon shots. That’s the territory of Google and, more specifically, co-founder and 30x billionaire Sergey Brin. Google’s daredevil and left-leaning computer scientist “directs special projects,” according to Google’s official Management Team webpage. He’s also been described as an “enlightenment man” by The Economist.

apple vs google for twitterThe products of Brin’s efforts? Self-driving cars (legal to “drive” in California and Nevada), Google’s Project Loon, an internet delivery mechanism intended to help previously unserved regions of the world via what’s basically a high-altitude weather balloon, and the infamous and celebrity-endorsed Google Glass smart glasses (the owners of which, when wearing them in public, are said to be glassholes by the gadget’s critics).

Lab Experiments

I’d argue that Google Glass and Project Loon are really just lab experiments with an abundance of media exposure and good PR. This is despite the fact that Glass is now available for anyone to purchase. But at $1,500, it’s an expensive experiment in wearables on the part of customers, the pursuit of which defies the practical disposable income of most middle class consumers. The self-driving cars, however, are truly impressive. They do more than provide gee-whiz technology to a burgeoning generation of millennials who are less concerned with driving than the status of their social media lives. They disrupt—and in a big way.

As impressive as Google’s self-driving cars are, two of Google’s three major moon shots are currently unavailable to even the most well-heeled consumers. Apple’s products, meanwhile, can be purchased anywhere, including Walmart, Amazon, and Best Buy. Contrasting the two companies, in many ways, is truly comparing apples and oranges. Another difference between these tech titans is Google’s offering of affordable ultra-high-speed residential internet service in the form of Google Fiber. Unfortunately, this service is in only Austin, Kansas City, and Provo. Thus it, too, is basically unavailable to nearly all consumers.

apple logo for blogBut what about the largest, most important product category: Smartphones? The playing field was recently leveled when Apple released the significantly enlarged 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and it’s big brother, the 5.5-inch Plus variant (the first iPhone to sport a true 1080 display). While it could previously be argued that Apple had great hardware that wasn’t satisfying consumers’ desire for larger screens—driven primarily by our insatiable desire to consume video from YouTube, Netflix, and Facebook—this is no longer a pertinent argument.

Now that Apple has upped the ante by competing on size, it’s hard to knock advising consumers to simply purchase an iPhone and get on with their lives. In reality, Apple is actually offering three smartphone display sizes because it’s still selling the 4-inch iPhone 5 models. For those who prefer a smaller, more pocketable form factor, 2013’s iPhone 5S is an excellent choice, especially for those wanting the photo and video capturing capabilities of the iPhone 6 and the majority of its processing power. Those criticizing Apple’s prices as being prohibitively high need to wake up and smell the coffee; the iPhone 5C, the award-winning smartphone with a reputation for capturing excellent photos and superlative video, is available from nearly all carriers for free (subsidized on a two-year contract). If you can live with the smaller screen, last year’s 5C is the value leader, costing you nothing out-of-pocket.

Goodbye Bloatware

There’s also the fact, in no way insignificant, that Apple’s products completely lack bloatware and, in the interface department, are skin-free. While manufacturers like HTC, LG, and Samsung continue to tweak and augment their respective versions of Google’s Android mobile OS, Apple’s iOS is free of any carrier-loaded software “enhancements.”

In addition, updates to Apple’s mobile operating system are available immediately to its entire installed base of devices (including its tablets), whereas Android updates are provided by Google to phone manufacturers, which must then apply their own modifications, typically releasing them months later—or not at all (carriers are under no obligation to provide Android updates to their subscribers).

tim-cookFinally, one can’t help but analyze the situation from a business perspective. As Apple CEO Tim Cook recently pointed out (and ad-free social network Ello emphasizes), with Google and its free services, you’re the product. You and the data regarding your online preferences and behavior are the product sold by Google to advertisers (just like how Facebook operates). With Apple, including all of its services, you’re the customer. Apple in no way remarkets or sells the data regarding its customers to advertisers or third parties.

In the end, the mature stance is understanding that Apple and Google each possess distinct and contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Google takes a buckshot approach to its products and services, spreading its resources among a weird variety of both practical and, seemingly, impractical projects—which may or may not become available to consumers (there’s a reason Alyce Lomax at The Motley Fool called Google a “Jack of all trades, master of none”).

Apple, thinking different, focuses on the few painstakingly positioned models in each of its product categories, ensuring industry-leading quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction while sweating the details for each new product cycle.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Back to Apple

Everyone loves to take sides in the religious war between mobile platforms. Like trying to walk away from a Spanish soap opera, it’s a drama from which millions of fanboys on both sides of the fence seemingly can’t disengage. “Mine is great, yours sucks” is the tone we so often hear. Platform preachers and mobile zealots love to tout the superiorities of their particular corporate religion. Like Republican versus Democrat or Christian versus atheist, you’re either one of us or you’re one of them.

My first tablet was an iPad. It was a great experience. But when my daughter began stealing the device to use high-end drawing apps like Procreate with an increasing frequency, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and simply purchase a new tablet for myself, relinquishing the iPad for my artist-in-residence 14-year-old. I was curious about Android and the hype surrounding the then-anticipated Nexus 7 tablet with the Kit Kat operating system, scheduled for release in August 2013. So I watched the product announcement online, got excited, and purchased one on Amazon.

Objectively, of course, the stock version of Google’s Android OS installed on the Nexus 7 was superior to Apple’s iOS in some ways, but couldn’t live up to it in others. We all have different sensitivities, so which is “better” overall is truly a matter of personal opinion. However, because of those subjective sensitivities, there is a right tablet for you. And, as I’ve learned, there’s definitely a right tablet for me.

apple logo for blogThe proof was delivered by a single app: Flipboard. This tremendously popular news aggregator boasts more than 90 million users. As its name implies, Flipboard provides a tiled layout, with each square on your screen representing a different media source of your choice. Because my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet featured the latest generation software and hardware, I anticipated even better graphics performance than I was getting from my older iPad. Or at least equal. This was a logical assumption, right?

Flipboard, delivered via the Android app on the Nexus 7, seemed half-baked. The tile pages stuttered and briefly froze as I swiped through them when checking my media sources. The pages typically never moved smoothly from one side of my tablet to the other. It was as if the GPU (graphics processing unit) had narcolepsy, falling asleep briefly at the times I needed it most. After the smooth Flipboard performance on the iPad, the Nexus 7 delivered a herky jerky user experience that was the mental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. It was as if the iPad was a graceful ballerina, while the Nexus 7 was a drunken frat boy.

Then, after only 10 months of use, the Nexus 7 died. One morning I awoke to the colored balls of the Google startup logo spinning incessantly. Three attempts later, the unit continued to refuse to boot up. I was forced to call Google’s tech support. After identifying that the problem wasn’t with its operating system, Google forwarded me to Asus tech support. Asus arranged an in-warranty return of the device for repair or replacement. I was now going to be out-of-pocket with a device that was an important part of my daily workflow. Doing business with Google and Asus was becoming a pain.

In the meantime, I began using the iPad again (my daughter won’t be “liking” this blog post, trust me). Despite being older generation hardware, Flipboard’s pages turned smoothly and elegantly. The stutters and moments of micro-hesitation exhibited by the Nexus 7 were nowhere to be found. It took only a couple of days for me to realize that I really wasn’t looking forward to the return of the Nexus 7. I had been spoiled by Apple and it’s buttery smooth graphics processing. It was as if I had driven the fast and silent Tesla Model S and, in migrating to the Nexus 7, was being forced to downgrade to a loud, slow Chevy.

ipadLater, I happened to be in a Verizon store in my community and, while waiting for a customer service rep, was playing with some of the display devices. I approached an iPad Mini. Low and behold, it just happened to have Flipboard installed. I began swiping on the screen, noting the perfectly smooth action of the pages as they turned under my finger. I began swiping faster, trying to force the Mini to stutter or somehow show weakness in its processing and display of the highly graphical, ever-changing tiled pages. But alas, I couldn’t. The Mini running Flipboard was perfect in its graphics prowess. Stuttering Porky Pig had left the building.

Like it or not, Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software—combined with the adoration and efforts of so many of its third-party software developers (like Flipboard)—results in the best user experience available. Period.

I’m sure this stance seems trivial to many. It’s just a few chokes, locks, and stutters, after all. While I fully respect the admiration that Android fanboys and users have toward their devices, I, personally, am returning to Apple for my tablet fix. It’s not only the smooth operation of Flipboard and similar apps that is beckoning to me. It’s also the mere fact that the iPad, having logged many more hours and tons more abuse (under the hands of my teenagers) than my Nexus 7, has never died. My wife has an even older second generation iPad. Again, no headaches, no problems; just a smooth user experience in any app. Yet after a significantly shorter period of use (not even a year)—and being babied and never dropped—the Google/Asus Nexus 7 croaked.

Before lashing out in the comments, realize that I’m not a blatant fanboy of either platform. It’s why I have open-mindedly tried both. But the proof is in the pudding. Yes, Apple is more expensive. But now I have a strong, “been there, done that” understanding of what that extra money delivers in terms of value, reliability, and overall user experience. Regardless of price point or specific features, Apple’s smartphones and tablets are now the assumed standard in my home.

Anybody want to buy a slightly used Nexus 7 tablet?

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Curt Robbins

[Also see my related blog posts Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot, Need a Computer? Think Apple, and Apple: The Myth of Too Expensive.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.