iMessages for the Rest of Us

My Dearest Apple,

It saddened me greatly to receive your email today regarding the ending of the Messages beta program for Mac OS X Lion. Even though the app is technically in beta, it has been very stable and has been a pleasure to use.

Unfortunately, my MacBook is the 2008 model that you decided wasn’t quite recent enough for Mac OS X Mountain Lion although I am certain it would run just fine based on the specs of the next model you did decide to support. What this means to me is that I will lose the ability to use iMessages on my MacBook on December 14th.

I do have to admit that I’m a little confused about this whole thing. Clearly, Messages runs on Mac OS X Lion. I have a working app to prove it. If this is a matter of revenues or some other technicality, I would gladly fork over a few bucks to buy Messages from the Mac App Store. Remember FaceTime? How about you do something similar to that approach. It would be great to continue to enjoy iMessages on my MacBook that still has a lot of useful life left.

Please let me know what you think when you have a chance.

Best regards,
Tim

Who Has An Apple Household?

Last week, one of my Facebook friends asked if it made sense to share one Apple ID between he and his wife so they did not have to buy their apps twice on each of their iPhones. The short answer here is yes, but does it really make sense in a world where individuals personalize their devices?

As a family with more iOS devices than I would like to admit, we use the same Apple ID on all of our devices and in iTunes on all of our computers. This works for us now because my wife and I don’t mind using the same Apple ID, and our kids are too young to have accounts of their own. In less than a year, the oldest will want an account of her own, and I can’t really blame her. I would too.

So, how does Apple solve this issue with an insanely great solution? Well, here’s my plan.

It is time for Apple to implement the Apple Household. A Household will be comprised of one or more Apple IDs. All purchases made with any of the Apple IDs in the Household will roll up into one iTunes in the Cloud library. This will make purchases available to anyone in the Household.

So what are the benefits of having several Apple IDs rolling up into one Apple Household? The biggest advantage is that a family will be able to easily consolidate their purchases in the cloud and will be able to take advantage of iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match as a family while still maintaining individual accounts on iOS devices.

Of course, an Apple Household would also create a lot of opportunity for parents to monitor and control the purchases of their minor children. Apple already provides a way for parents to give an iTunes allowance to their kids. The Household could take this even further by using the concept of a head of household. The head of household, most likely a parent or guardian, would have the ability to easily set parental controls over all of the minor accounts in the Household via a simple iTunes-based control panel.

So, to summarize, the Apple Household provides the individualism that typical Apple users need, families get the consolidated iTunes library they want, and parents get the controls they require. Seems like everyone wins. Apple, let’s make this happen!

Thanks Steve!

Steve JobsSteve Jobs and Apple have had an enormous impact on my life and the lives of most of the people I know and love. Steve’s passing leaves a massive hole in the world of technology and in many of our lives. Many of us feel like we had a personal connection with him because he was just one of us: a user. He was always the one that just got it. He helped his designers and developers create products that he wanted to use himself, and he brought the rest of us along for the ride. His products “just worked.”

It was Apple (and by association, Steve Jobs) that turned me on to technology at a very early age. Does anyone remember programing an Apple IIe in elementary school to show images based on pixel coordinates? I sure do. I was amazed I could make a computer do exactly what I wanted it to do. Looking back now, I think it was that time that locked me in to being a technologist even though I have meandered through music and finance along the way.

I am personally thankful to Steve for providing the perfect example of how a technologist should approach their work. Each of his keynote addresses provided a master class of how to teach an audience about a new product and convince the audience that they needed that product at the same time. His keynote addresses have significantly influenced the way I approach my product demos and training classes, and I often go back and watch his addresses to get inspired before a big client meeting. I believe this influence has made my presentations more productive and entertaining for my clients.

Steve’s endless pursuit of perfection in his products has also influenced me in my work. Whenever I design a product, I feel like it should “just work.” Whether it is a massive enterprise system or the smallest of reports, I have always believed that the solutions should do what they are supposed to do in a logical, focused way. If the targeted audience for a solution cannot use it without a user manual, I have failed as a designer. Let’s be honest, no one ever wants to read a manual. So, if I create a banking app that a banker cannot instinctively use: FAIL. If I create a photography app that a photographer cannot instinctively use: FAIL. You get my point. This, I think, is the most important lesson Steve Jobs has taught me and many others in the technology industry. Can you imagine if we all created technology solutions that kind of worked and that were so complex that you needed a manual to use every feature? None of us would be having any fun or moving forward. For this lesson, I will be forever thankful.

Finally, I would like to thank Steve for choosing October 23, 2001 to introduce the iPod to the world. It was a beautiful sunny day in Chicago, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than to sit at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store to watch the announcement in person. The iPod and I will always share the same birthday, and that’s pretty cool!

Thanks Steve!

So, Did I Switch to MobileMe?

Well, dear readers, I promised to get back to you and let you know if I ever made the switch from Google Gmail and Google Calendar to the MobileMe suite, and now that it’s been a year, I figure I better let you know what happened.

Well, this is pretty simple folks. MobileMe has done absolutely nothing to convince me to transition from the Google application suite. MobileMe kind of reminds me of plain vanilla ice cream. Not the kind made with natural vanilla but the kind that has a yellowish tint made from imitation vanilla. It seems that at some point, my expectations for web applications has gone well beyond the customer that Apple is aiming to please.

It seems that Google is on the other end of the spectrum. It constantly works to improve its applications and produces impressive web applications using the latest technologies. That’s not to say that Apple isn’t doing the same with MobileMe, but the functionality that Apple produces is so simplified that it seems like something that was introduced five years ago. I’m sure there is a market for that type of thing, but it’s not a market I fit in anymore.

So, why am I sticking with Google? Well, it’s all about innovation and it’s all about standards. As I said before, Google seems to constantly improve its mail, contacts, and calendar programs. It is a leader in providing communications solutions like Google Talk and Google Voice. It is constantly on the cutting edge.

What’s even more interesting is that Google supports industry standards so thoroughly. Want to use any modern email program to access your Gmail account? No problem, Google has you covered with POP and IMAP. Want to use a modern calendar application to access your Google Calendar? No problem, Google has you covered with CalDAV.

Needless to say, I am still in the Google camp, and I am deeply entrenched at this point. Gmail (including chat), Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Docs, YouTube, etc. It is going to take something so magical and so game changing to claw me away from Google that only one company on the planet has the ability to pull it off.

Come on Apple, MobileMe is not nearly good enough. Impress me! Convince me that you have the creativity and ability to produce something so game changing yet so right that everyone will want to use your web applications. You’ve clearly done it with the iPhone. Now do it one the web.

Why I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands on iLife ’09

On Tuesday, Apple announced the next version of their iLife suite. I have been using iLife since the very first version and have faithfully upgraded with the availability of each new version. While each version has had its own nice new enhancements, I am drawn to this newest iteration more than its predecessors.

What is so special about iLife ’09? Well, let’s start with iPhoto. The features that interest me the most are Faces and Online Sharing. Apple has included face detection and face recognition functionality in iPhoto for the first time, and I could not be more excited. Almost all of our photos are of our kids or friends and family, and I spend a significant amount of time tagging and categorizing our photos by person. The Faces feature will make it so much easier for me to manage out photos that I might actually be able to post new photos before they’re old and dated.

Going along with the Faces feature is the new ability to share photos on Flickr and Facebook directly from iPhoto. I have been using FlickrExport from Connected Flow for quite some time, and it is a great iPhoto plugin, but I am excited to see Apple embracing online sharing sites other than its own MobileMe. Both Flickr and Facebook offer APIs that Apple has been able to use (I assume), and it also appears that Apple has worked directly with both of these companies because the functionality seems to go beyond functionality created by other companies. As a Flickr and Facebook user, I am excited to try the new integration with iPhoto. I have avoided posting any photos on Facebook because I already use Flickr, but now I should be able to share the same iPhoto albums or events in Flickr and Facebook with a click or two. What’s really cool is that the Faces feature in iPhoto works with the tag feature in Facebook. Cool stuff.

I am also excited to give the new GarageBand a shot. With the new MacBook, I will finally be able to connect our Roland digital piano to a Mac via MIDI to see what kind of music I can create. It should be fun to see what I can do. It’s been a long time, but I’m sure it will all come back to me. The piano and guitar lessons will help me along, I’m sure. Plus, how cool will it be to learn Roxanne from Sting and Proud Mary from John Fogerty? I’ll post anything cool I come up with.

Once I get my hands on iLife ’09, I will report back and let you know if it lives up to my expectations. Based on what I saw in the keynote, it certainly looks like an upgrade that everyone will find useful.

Taking Over the iPhone

So, I managed to talk my wife into letting me take her iPhone with me to the kids’ swimming lessons. I thought I would try out the WordPress app to see how well it works. I have to say that it is very impressive. What is even more impressive is the iPhone’s spelling checker. I haven’t been able to fool it yet with my fat thumbs. I guess I need to step up my attempts to get my company to switch from BlackBerry to iPhone. :-)

Apple’s Finally Talking about MobileMe

I have a lot more to say about MobileMe than this post, but that will need to wait for when I have more time. For those of you going through the pain of the .Mac to MobileMe transition, Apple is finally providing status updates to let us know how everything is going. There’s only one post so far so it is yet to be seen how much they’re actually going to tell us, but this is a step in the right direction.

Will MobileMe Make Me Leave Google’s Gmail and Calendar?

Since Steve Jobs’ keynote at the WWDC in June, I have been waiting patiently (well, quite impatiently) for the new and improved .Mac which has been rebranded as MobileMe. Based on the keynote and guided tour, MobileMe finally looks like the mail, address book, and calendar applications I expected from Apple when they launch iTools and .Mac so many years ago. As a user of many devices and computers on a daily basis, I have always struggled with keeping everything synchronized. Perhaps MobileMe will finally provide the solution for which I have been looking.

My big question now is, will MobileMe provide enough functionality to convince me to move all of my email, contacts, and calendars from Gmail and Google Calendar to the MobileMe platform? This will be no small feat considering how long I have been using both of those Google applications. The one big plus for me will be the ability to use desktop applications on my Mac and Windows machines. Right now, I can use Gmail on the desktop using IMAP, but having to move messages from one label to another can become annoying and cumbersome. Google also has sync applications for Google Calendar that can sync with Outlook, but I have found the functionality to be buggy at best. To me, neither of these solutions is good enough, and they tend to take away from my productivity and enjoyment of the applications.

If MobileMe can truly deliver on its promise of providing a consistent user experience on my Mac using its built in Mail, Address Book, and iCal applications, my Windows machine using Outlook, and the Internet, I will be a very happy camper. My guess is a lot of other people will feel the exact same way. We’ll know any day now if MobileMe is really Exchange for the rest of us.

The Better Sub Notebook

A while back, Â I wrote Notes on the MacBook Air. Â I recently got my hands on the better sub notebook.

First and foremost, I’m a huge Mac fan. Â I’ve loved Apple products for as long as I can remember.

I am, however, somewhat disappointed by the MacBook Air now that I’ve gotten my hands on a Lenovo X300. Â The X300 is what the Air should have been from the beginning. Â Built in optical drive (CD/DVD Burning) or extra battery port, video out, multiple USB ports and still lightweight.

Best of all, the X300 has most of the ThinkVantage technologies that make their ThinkPad line the ultimate business tool it is.

My only problem with the X300 is that it doesn’t run the Mac OS. Â If it did, I’d be a switcher in a heartbeat to the hardware natively with no hacks.

I’m assuming Lenovo marketing folks came up with this spoof. Â Enjoy!

Notes on the MacBook Air

I can see there being a market for the MacBook Air – not a market I fit into, but a market nonetheless.

When catching the first glimpse of the Air, it really is quite stunning. The size alone is enough to make you think aloud: how’d they fit a computer in there?!?

While the computer weighs in at about three pounds which is really light, it appears that it should be as light as a feather. Essentially, looks are deceiving on it – but not necessarily in a bad way. I must admit that I did grab a manila envelope to see if it were true – and it is. You could easily hide it and no one would be the wiser – unless you have the power cord plugged for some reason.

Apple has very cleverly hidden the USB, audio jack and DVI port in a fold down compartment which when closed is almost invisible. It’s been fun watching people try to find it – and once they do, the “wow” look really comes over them. It almost seems as if the rubber “feet” on the bottom for spacing from the work surface work in tandem with the port. If the machine didn’t have the feet, the door would hit the surface the computer is sitting on. I don’t know how this will work if you’re using the machine on your lap and need to have something plugged in – even if it is simply headphones – whether or not this will interfere with keeping the port open.

Like the other laptops with a back lit keyboard, this one is just as impressive. It may be that the keys are black and the letters simply glow when in a dim environment, it’s a simple touch of elegance that is simply Apple.

The way that the laptop is hinged rather than clasped like the MacBooks reminds me of the clamshell iBooks – you remember the ones.

Now back to the market for this computer… the one I do not fit into.  I could see this machine being perfect for someone who travels a lot and is doing a number of presentations on a regular basis. Perhaps a sales rep doing a few pitches a day or someone who is on the road a lot. It seems like a great machine for email, internet and presentations. Maybe Al Gore will pick one up for when he does his global presentation… I’m sure as a board member he has first dibs. I definitely do not see someone purchasing the Air to be or replace their primary machine. Hard drive space and processor speeds simply don’t allow for this to be a good primary machine and though I’d love to have one for myself, I simply don’t have the need. However, my home set up is a 20″ Intel iMac – maybe the Air would be a fantastic notebook. If I didn’t have a work issued MacBook Pro, I might have considered splurging and picking one up but I definitely think Apple has done it again!

It’s simple, elegant, and simply done right. I just hope it is received well and doesn’t fall the way of the Cube. Don’t remember that one? Check it out.

Editor’s Note: Greg Probst is the author of Blue Sleeves Blog and is a regular contributor to Probstisms.