Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Using iTunes U

One of the great secrets of iTunes seems to be the iTunes University. iTunes U is a huge selection of classes that are available from Universities all over the world. The classes are all free to download and are in Video or Audio format and some even include PDF's of the presentations.
The early classes were mostly technology related but now almost every topic is covered and available for download. If you are looking for something new to learn for the sake of learning or you are a student looking to get a jump on classes you are planning to take, or a little older and just want a refresher of classes you have taken before iTunes U is in amazing resource.

This has the ability to change the face of education. Imagine learning a
bout subjects from the leaders of their field no matter where you live. You just need a computer, an internet connection and iTunes.

So here is how you get to iTunes U in three easy steps.

1st download iTunes from www.apple.com/itunes


Now you are off and learning form the top teachers and some of the top schools in the country from the comfort of your own home and it is totally free. This is great for kids to discover new interests and get ahead in school.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Apple Big Brother? Reality Check

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In an email this past week Jason Calicanis wrote a Case Against Apple in Five Parts detailing where Apple is going wrong as a closed platform and how their control of the platform can ultimately hurt them. This got a lot of email sent to Jason, some agreeing and others well let's just say vehemently disagreeing. I am a fan of Apple but folks there is no need to be ugly about it when someone expresses an opinion on how Apple might improve.

In addition to those emails Techcruch and The Daily Beast have both run stories about both Jason's email and the responses. So I thought this week I would wade into the discussion with a few thoughts of my own.

Jason stated since the love affair was over he was going to buy a Zune. Here is my question to Jason. Isn't the Zune less open and ultimately more expensive than the iPod? First if you want to use the Zune you have to use the Zune 3.0 app to sync your Zune with your computer. The Zune software only works on Windows XP Sp2 and higher. No Macs, no Linux, are even welcome on the Zune without the use of Parallels, VMWare, or some other Virtual Machine Application and Windows. As iTunes runs on both Mac and Windows it seems as though the iPod is more open than the Zune.

Still most people just don't seem to care for the Zune even with the Social features it has that iPod doesn't. The iPod is still selling millions and the Zune is only about 3% of MP3 sales.

On the Mac OS the thing that has made the OS so stable and rock solid for years is the fact Apple has kept tight control over both the hardware and the software. By doing that software developers new pretty much what they were righting their software for and the OS developers new they only had a few types of hardware devices to worry about so making things integrate tightly and be stable was a fairly easy task.

Anyone who has worked on Windows knows that sometimes adding a sound card or other peripheral could cause unexpected results once the drivers were loaded. Microsoft is even starting to deal with that issue requiring drivers to be signed in Windows 7 and device manufactures have to pay to get their drivers signed. A great way for Microsoft to make more money and finally force manufactures into some sort of standard to reduce the number of issues they have with their operating system.

I argued in a blog post in 2002 that Apple should make an Intel version of OS X. Of course I didn't know then they already were in preparation for a transition to move their hardware to Intel. I thought they should be doing it and still controlling the experience by partnering with Dell, HP, and others allowing them to build their brand to an Apple spec and allow those machines to run OS X.

This would allow more people to use OS X and increase its market penetration and let the other manufactures benefit from Apple's design. People who are going to buy Macs aren't going to stop but their might be some lower end markets that are still untapped because they can't or won't spend $1000 on a laptop or desktop computer. Apple could still make money off the OS license and make it a little easier for people to make the leap to OS X. Plus pushing more OS X installs out their make for a larger install base for developers to write software too. It is a win/win for everyone.

But Apple is a hardware company that uses software as a value add to sell their hardware so I don't see them doing that any time soon. I wish they would but it just isn't likely to happen. Plus Atari made the mistake of opening up their platform to anyone who wanted to write a game for the platform and ended up with some low quality unreliable games and the console took the criticism for it. Ultimately Atari went away and every console manufacturer since has kept very tight control over who is allowed to distribute games to avoid the same fate as Atari. Apple by comparison has been very open allowing anyone to produce apps for the computer, but keeping a tighter control on the phone.

The iPhone while having a tightly controlled ecosystem of Apps it has the largest ecosystem of Apps of any smart phone. The device has gone from non-existent 3 1/2 years ago to a Gartner Group estimate of 13% of smart phones in just that time and still growing by leaps and bounds. Do we love everything that is being done? Of course not. We want Apple to end the exclusivity agreement with AT&T which has been a hallmark of the American cellphone market for more than a decade and allow users choice of network. Many European countries have been doing this for years and our own FCC is finally looking into the practice to determine if it is harmful to customers. The answer is in short yes it is. Handset manufactures have been largely forced to hobble their devices and stifle innovation because the carriers didn't want devices on their network that might tax it or force them to upgrade the network to keep up with changing demands.

Apple is getting a lot of heat over the rejection of the Google Voice Application which is what has touched off this firestorm. Apple has been fairly arbitrary in accepting and rejecting Apps on the App Store for some time and with no real good reasons ever given. It leaves one to wonder how much of the seemingly arbitrary decisions are Apple's and how much is it a contractual obligation with AT&T?

I would like to see Apple more open and continue their expanded market penetration. It is good for us that already use Mac OS and will push companies that only develop for Windows to start thinking about both. I have clients in Real Estate and Accounting that struggle with large companies not making websites or software that work on anything but older versions of Windows or older Internet Explorer Web Browsers. Larger market share will inevitably lead to these companies innovating and creating apps that will work on Windows or Mac and creating websites that are not hooked into a particular browser. Historically Microsoft has been the big brother anti-competitive company who has created methods to tie people into one browser, one OS and it is coming back to bite them and their customers. How many people are stuck running IE 6 because one website won't allow them to upgrade?

Is Apple Big Brother yet? No, they have the potential to someday maybe. However I hope by then they will not feel the need and allow users to tweak and customize their devices as much as they can their OS. OS X is very configurable to look and feel how a user wants to make it look and feel. Maybe once AT&T is just a player in the larger iPhone ecosystem we will see the iPhone move the same direction as OS X in terms of the variety of apps a user wants and the kind of experience a user wants. Does the user want the Apple preferred I don't have to think about my device and just use it experience or the hacker let me tweak, customize, and see what I can make it do experience?

One thing is for certain cellular networks will have to look at protecting their network from the network side and stop meddling in our handsets. Thanks to Apple that trend is starting slowly.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Apple Genius Support

Today I am going to tackle a tech topic that is frequently overlooked. Everyone has computer issues from time to time and need assistance from the vendor. The question is how well does the vendor respond?

My Airport Extreme base station stopped working preventing me from using AirDisk to backup my laptop. I first tried switching out the hard drive with another one and it wouldn't mount. Next I took the drive that was in the Airport and plugged it into my laptop and it did work. So I was able to determine it was likely the USB port.

I dropped by the Apple Store and asked if a Genius could take a look. Unfortunately that store was full for the day but they scheduled me an appointment later in the day at another Apple Store in town. So I returned later to the other store and explained to the Genius everything I had done on my own to diagnose and he said sounds like a dead USB port to us as well. I had already tried everything they would of tried.

So he took my Airport went to his computer and started processing the replacement request. The good news while I have had the Airport for a couple of years they were going to replace it free of charge. I fortunately have Apple Care on my laptop which extends coverage to all Apple Monitors and Apple peripherals while the laptop or desktop is covered.

The good news was Apple was replacing my hobbled Airport, the bad news they didn't have my model in stock and it would be a couple of days. I asked the Genius if there was anything he could do, without my Airport my phones at home don't work more than one laptop can't easily be connected to the network etc. He suggested buying a new unit and just return it in a couple of days when mine comes in. I told him I didn't care for the solution because it just felt wrong to me to do that. It costs me money up front and when I return it Apple has to refurbish it and sell it for less money. So he said he would see what else he can come up with.

A few minutes later after talking to the manager he came back and said he would just give me the newer model to replace my older model unit. He took one off the shelf unboxed it and traded me my old unit for a newer model unit.

This is not the first trip to the Apple Genius Bar where they have taken such good care of me. A few years ago my iPod died right before a trip out of town and it would be miserable to fly across country without my iPod to listen to on the trip. So the Genius saw I had a dead hard drive and that model was no longer stocked so they bummed me up to a newer model classic and sent me on my way.

I can't stress enough how beneficial the Apple Care warranties are to extend the warranty of any device you own from Apple and if you go in and stay calm and polite how willing the Apple staff is to make your experience as painless as possible and sometimes you only have to ask them to help you out and they can go that extra mile to make your experience a pleasant one.

The nicer you are to them the more likely they are to use that extra discretion Apple gives their employees to make you a happy customer.

I do recommend going on to http://www.apple.com/retail/geniusbar/ and schedule a reservation so you can reduce your wait time when you go to the store.

Will Microsoft be able to offer this sort of experience with its retail stores when they start opening around the country? Tell me what you think here.