Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Surface Disk Free Space

Yikes! A 32GB Microsoft Surface RT has only 16GB free according to the Microsoft Surface FAQ. Thats 16GB for the Operating System! 5GB of that is recovery tools which could be on the net, but instead chews up expensive internal flash memory! This bloat explains the pricing and performance issues with the device. Arguably, you can expand the Surface (and Android devices) with up to 64GB more disk space using a single SD card, but that I/O is pretty slow compared to the built-in flash memory.

In comparison, iOS is way less than 2GB and Android is small too. As portable operating systems should be.

AAPL vs AMZN Performance Madness

Philip Elmer-DeWitt noted something interesting on Saturday in Fortune magazine, Amazon’s price-to-earnings ratio is now 2,767. Apple’s is 13! In the last quarter, Apple’s earnings were up and the stock went down, whereas Amazon reported a loss and the stock went up.

When a company reports bumper earnings, I assume its stock price should rise, and when a company takes a loss, the stock price should fall. After all, the stock price is really the public valuation of the company. So this response to earnings makes no sense to me. I decided to investigate this madness to see if there are any other rational indicators that explain it. Instead, I found support for my thesis, and no answer to why this is happening.

3 Month Performance

Here is a chart of AAPL vs AMZN (with friends MSFT and PEP as the “blue-chips”) for the past three months:

So, over the past 3 months, AAPL is down 5.33%, AMZN only 1.25% down, whereas MSFT, PEP, DOW and the Nasdaq are all pretty flat. Why is AAPL down more than AMZN? The short term view makes no sense.

Return on Equity

Since most investment decisions are made over a longer view, lets look at the Return on Equity (ROE) ratios over five (5) years. The ROE tells us how much money a company is making for its investors, i.e. if a company spends $100 to make something, and sells it for $120, it makes a profit of $20, or an ROE of 20%:

This tells quite a story. Over the past 5 years, AAPL’s ROE has been trending upwards, i.e. AAPL is becoming more profitable. This is amazing given that we’ve been through the toughest recession since the Great Depression. MSFT and PEP have held their own as blue-chips should, but look at the downward slope of AMZN, it’s too steep to ski down! AMZN has gone from a company that generates massive profits to a company that makes a loss, and the trend is not looking good. So, using past performance, AMZN’s shares should have dropped like a rock. Instead, they have gone up by 170.27% over 5 years vs AAPL’s 209.2%. What? Something is wrong here.

Earnings per Share

Lets try Earnings per Share (EPS) instead. EPS the amount of money the company actually earns for each share of stock that is outstanding. It should increase each year as the company grows.

Wow, AAPL’s EPS has gone ballistic, so the stock should have gone ballistic too. AMZN, however, has gone from almost nothing positive EPS to negative, so the share price should have tanked. Did not!

Price / Earnings Ratio

This is the number that triggered this post. The Price / Earnings Ratio (P/E) is one way investors use to determine how much a stock costs compared with how much the company earns. Think of it as the number of years it would take for the earnings of the company to pay back your share purchase cost. A good P/E should be in line with the industry average (I prefer above average), and it should remain steady, it should not move around too much. As a simplification, a cheap share is one where the P/E suddenly drops after being nice and steady, and an expensive share is one where the P/E rises suddenly after being nice and steady. Lets take a look:

AAPL, MSFT and PEP are nice and steady, with AAPL’s P/E dropping as it’s profitability increases, as expected. AMZN’s P/E is quite high and volatile. But over the last year, the P/E for AMZN has popped right off the chart. See the chart to the right. AMZN’s P/E on Sep 30 was 3,633 vs AAPL’s of 15.11. Or in other words, AAPL will pay back in 15 years and AMZN when the sun goes cold. Using P/E as an indicator to make investment decisions, AMZN’s volatile P/E means you should not buy it (and sell what you have) and the upwards jump indicates an urgent sell and a do-not-touch. Yet still the AMZN share price went up. What?

So what could it be?

I have several theories why AMZN shares are up, none of which are probably valid:

  • Investors and analysts are not looking at the numbers. Or they are looking at the numbers and do not understand them.
  • Or, the large number of anti-AAPL, pro-AMZN articles in the press are swaying investor opinion.
  • Or, Jeff Bezos has his own reality distortion field.
  • Or, hedge funds are pushing AAPL down so that when it pops, it pops big for them (they are all long AAPL and would love to buy more at depressed prices). And they are artificially inflating AMZN shares for some unknown reason.
  • Or, people are investing with emotion not facts.
  • Or, the disruption theory applies. Amazon has successfully disrupted the book business, shoe business and many other retail businesses by selling lead products at a loss (and consumables, such as the books themselves, at very low margin that no-one can beat), and investors are betting that at some point AMZN will push its prices up once the competition is finally buried.

Whatever the reason, the fundamentals show that AAPL shares are undervalued, and AMZN shares are ridiculously bubble-level overvalued. Yet only one other person seems to be asking why, Philip Elmer-DeWitt.

Surface RT Is Not a Duck

What is a duck? Well, if it looks like a duck, floats like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. The just-released Microsoft Surface RT fails the duck test, it looks like a tablet, but it is not a tablet. Windows 8 RT also fails the duck test, it looks like Windows 8, but it is not Windows 8.

For the record, I have used the real proper Windows 8 on a Samsung tablet before, so my impressions of the Surface and Windows RT are based on that experience.

I spent some time today hands on at the Microsoft popup store in Time Warner Center. I had not planned to, but as I was there, and the popup store was there, and I had the time, and so did the folks there, so I was all over it.

The device itself looks wonderful, its bright screen and large colorful Metro tiles look good, and attracted a sizable crowd. The thickness and weight was as expected, it felt lighter than the iPad or Samsung tablet but not as solid as either. And it does look good with the kickstand out and a playful keyboard cover in front of it.

The first thing I did was pick it up and yank off the keyboard. It came off easily, and the solid click it makes when reconnecting reminds me of the VW door experience. Whereas all the other people at the popup store were using the Surface as a laptop, I wanted to try it as a tablet.

Scrolling performance on the Metro tile-page was great, and app launch times (excluding Office) were excellent. But when I rotated it into portrait mode, nothing happened. I rotated it some more, nothing. Odd, this worked on the Samsung. I asked for help and a staffer told me that there was a setting for that. Ok, not sure why it was set this way, but hands on in landscape only today.

Having used Windows 8 before and learned the gestures, navigation for me was easy. But not for anyone else there. It seems Microsoft knows this too as the ratio of staff to devices was 1:1 at the popup store. The general public who where there to try out the product were unable to do much without a staffer holding their hands and showing them what to do. Compare that to the Samsung store upstairs in the same building where I have yet to see a staffer and everyone seems quite comfortable picking up an Android tablet and just using it.

The metro apps themselves on RT seem to be the same ones as real Windows 8. Which means that they are just as simplistic, feature stunted and incomprehensibly hard to use because they have no navigation, buttons or menus visible. I still find myself wildly gesturing in several directions hoping what I want will appear. I noticed that the staff at the popup store focussed mainly on the charms bar and had to explain gestures over and over again to the same people. The feeling of the audience was one of wonder at the new look and angry frustration at how to use it once you got past the tiles.

Oh, and these apps, they have advertisements in them. Yup, adverts in an operating system that you, the customer, paid for. For example, launch the weather app and keep swiping right until you hit the end. The app itself is great, easy to read and light on detail to start with, and gets progressively more detailed as you drill right. Excellent! And it ends with a half-screen advertisement, in my case, for an anti-virus product. What? No-no-no-no-no!

But the major selling point of the Surface is its ability to run Office, so I tried that out. Excel took a while to launch as the internet connection to SkyDrive was slow, but it did load the spreadsheet I asked for eventually. I had used regular Excel on regular Windows 8 on the Samsung tablet and my biggest gripe was that the desktop application’s menu and ribbon icon touch targets were too small to make it usable. On RT, they made them bigger. The bigger menus work better, but the ribbon icons are still way too small. No only that, but touch accuracy was awful. I found myself having to tap above where I thought the icon was to hit it. And more often than not, missed below.

This touch accuracy bothered me, so I tested it in Internet Explorer too, same problem. I tried to load this site in Bing, but, as usual, the search engine autocorrected Hiltmon to some random hotel chain name. No matter where I tapped on the “Do you want results only for hiltmon.com?” line, it never recognized my taps, I had to tap above it. I asked for help. It took three Staffers to try to load this web site, and all failed. Somehow the tablet kept on going to the Microsoft Store instead, even though I tested it on my phone in front of them and it worked fine. I’m hoping this is a popup store issue and not a platform issue.

Back to Excel. With the keyboard up, and the ribbon visible, there’s no space for the spreadsheet in landscape orientation. Here’s what happened. I tried to edit some cells. First, the keyboard did not come up when I tapped and tapped on a cell, I had to tap the keyboard button to bring it up (Staff says there is a setting for that, too). Secondly, when the keyboard did come up, the cell with the cursor in it was hidden behind it, so I had to scroll it into the tiny space between ribbon and keyboard to see it. It should have just appeared. I know that there was a second cursor in the edit bar, but in regular Excel I am used to in-cell editing.

And thirdly, the keyboard is just mad. A split keyboard for thumb typing I get (and like), but instead of showing me spreadsheet between each half of the keyboard, they have this huge black space with a big fat number pad in the middle, chewing up most of the screen. I had to stop, Excel on a Surface without the attached keyboard is still unusable. And with the keyboard, you still need to use the trackpad mouse to navigate the toolbar as touch is awful.

I then launched Powerpoint in tablet mode. Worked OK for showing the slide deck, but editing was just as impossible as in Excel. It did seem to ensure the text box was visible when the keyboard came up. Same ribbon problems though.

Finally, Word. Only in laptop mode, kickstanded with the touch keyboard attached. I was hoping the typing experience would be better than other products. I love that the keys on the touch cover have ever-so-slightly raised caps to I could feel where to tap. But the amount of pressure needed to activate a key varied across the keyboard and across keyboards. It felt natural to type on, but keystrokes kept on getting missed. I’m sure with practice, this will improve, just as my typing on a touchscreen did. I did not try the cover with real keys, but watched others and it seemed the obvious one to buy.

But, while typing in Word, that is when I realized it. The Surface was operating at this point in time as intended. Standing up, in landscape, with a keyboard and touchpad, where the user occasionally reaches forward to swipe on the screen. In this mode, it does look good and work well. And when the software becomes more useable, this Surface will too.

My take is that the Microsoft Surface looks like a tablet, but it’s really just a very nice ARM based ultrabook that is only usable when connected to its keyboard and standing on its kickstand. And Windows 8 RT is feaux Windows, it looks and handles like the real Windows 8, it fools consumers into thinking it is Windows 8, yet does not run Windows 8 software. It’s not a duck. It’s not a tablet and not a real Windows 8 PC. And the version of Office on it is a compromised version of the real thing too, and is certainly not ready for tablet or touch use.

I will not buy this Surface. I’ll reserve judgment until the full pro version comes out that runs real Windows 8 to see if that works better. If I wanted a really good Windows 8 ultrabook today, I’d buy the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. It’s a tad heavier, can flip into a tablet to show stuff off, or stand up for whatever reason, but it runs real Windows 8 as intended, and does so without trying to be something its not.

Marco and the Surface

Marco Arment, of Instapaper and The Magazine fame, went to a Microsoft Store yesterday to try out the new Surface and wrote about the experience in his blog in An alternate universe. Go read it. I’ll wait.

I’m sad to say but I think I may have to agree with his conclusion:

But it’s not for me at all. Not even for testing, experimenting, or curiosity. It feels too much like using a Windows PC, which was exactly Microsoft’s intention, and it will appeal to people who want that. But that’s a world I fled 8 years ago with no intention of returning.

Windows 8 Launch MIA

So I sat back today to watch the live stream of the Microsoft Windows 8 launch. I was excited, this is the first Windows launch that interested me since Windows 95. And I waited for them to show me the product, its features and its pricing. And I waited, and waited, and then the show ended. Information about Windows 8 was missing in action at the launch.

Now I know that the press has had it for ages. I know I have been running a Windows 8 preview in the VM for ages, and so have most developers and corporate IT departments. And I have also used it on a Samsung tablet. But most customers have not touched, seen or played with Windows 8. Maybe I assumed, incorrectly it seems, that the launch audience was potential Windows 8 customers, just like the audiences for Apple and Google’s launches are. Maybe I assumed incorrectly that the purpose of a launch is to talk about the product and then show it off, its features and pricing. I must be incorrect because the Windows 8 launch did none of that.

Instead, Steven Sinofski came out and talked and talked and talked. He talked about the past, he talked about the three things he was going to talk about (Windows 8 Upgrade, Windows Store, and Windows RT), he talked about new boot times and touch, he talked about the new store, he talked about the existence of RT and its walled garden. And then he was done. As far as information was concerned, he never left the 10,000 foot view, did not show a single screenshot. No product details or features. He mentioned the $40 upgrade price, that’s it!

Ok, next came Chip and Dale (not their real names), the two most excited and perky people ever to grace a stage, to demo Windows 8. Yay, now I will get to see some of the great new product features. Uh, no. One showed her tablet and swiped the Metro screen left and right, the other showed his laptop and installed Wikipedia. And then they spent the rest of the demo acting like characters from the shopping channel gesturing wildly at partner products on stage and jabbering incessantly. Not a demo as much as a pair of chipmunks discussing nuts.

Then out sauntered Ballmer. And he talked and talked and talked and talked. And walked up and down the stage like a caged animal. I sat there with pen and paper, ready to take down all the great information he was about to share, all the points and facts and stuff about the product that they were there to launch. Remember, Windows 8 Launch. The Purpose of the whole thing! I didn’t want to miss a single thing so that I could write an excellent blog post about the product.

Zilch, nada, nothing. All marketing speak. No data. No specifics. Eh?

So what did I learn from this launch, other than how awful it was?

  • Windows RT runs on ARM chips and joins the walled garden model where you can only buy apps from the App store
  • It boots faster, it boots faster, it boots faster (I guess it needs to boot a lot)
  • You can plug in a printer to a Windows RT device and most should work
  • A lot of companies make devices that Windows 8 runs on

That’s all. Nothing about the product, nothing about how to choose between Windows 8 and RT, nothing about built in apps, features and what makes Windows 8 just great.

I came expecting a product launch, I heard a lot of talking, I saw a lot of gesturing at stuff on pedestals on stage and I watched Uncle Fester blather on and on and say nothing. I know just as much about Windows 8 after the launch as I did before. Waste of Time!

Oh and Microsoft, I repeat, 12:01 AM tomorrow is not today!

Apple vs Microsoft Launch Differences

I started a post on the Windows 8 Launch which I will get back to later, because there were some very key differences between the two presentations and they really resounded with me. Some of them stylistic, some fundamental, you choose which.

Microsoft: “will”, Apple: “is”. A lot of the Microsoft presentation was all about “will”, you will be more productive, you will have more device choices, you will enjoy, you will do X better. Apple’s presentation was all about what “is”. This is how you do X better, these are your choices, this is fun. To me, a product launch is about what the product is not what it will be.

Microsoft: Touch and Mouse, Apple: Touch or Mouse. Microsoft is promoting Windows as the do anything on any device platform, Windows is generic. Apple is promoting OS X for PC and iOS for Touch, specific platforms for specific devices. Yet on closer inspection Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 all seem to have common elements and design, but are different platforms requiring different toolkits to develop for, just like the Apple split. Maybe as a developer I don’t see Windows as a single platform, but the public will. Either way, there will be confusion. Apple’s specifics reduce that confusion.

Microsoft: “choice”, Apple: “best”. A heck of a lot of the Microsoft launch was about “choice”. Choose your price range, form factor, size, weight, screen size, vendor and tools, and they never lean more in the direction of one or the other. Apple’s presentation was all about “best”, what Apple thinks is best that is, and limits price range and form factor to a few Apple designs. For many, the Apple approach is great because they do not have to think; for just as many, the limited selection from Apple is too small. I’d love to know what Microsoft thinks is the best hardware for Windows, or maybe they have done so with the Surface. But there are just too many choices and price points for Windows 8 devices for even me to get my head around, never mind the regular consumer.

Microsoft: Partner Design, Apple: Our design. Microsoft did present and show a lot of different partner products and Ballmer did talk a lot about their partners designs. Apple talks about its own design. In doing so, Apple tries to point out why it believes its designs are better, and sometimes comes off like a hipster trying to explain themselves. Microsoft talked about other people’s designs but did not point out if they liked the design, if the design was any good or why their partner designs were better or worse than, well, anything. Maybe they cannot play favorites, but I’d like to know what designs they think are better and why.

Microsoft: Work and Play, Apple: Productivity. One big difference in the two is that Microsoft perceives work to be something completely different from play, and spent a lot of time trying to convince us that Windows 8 is great for both these very separate and different activities. Apple does not distinguish between work and play, treats them as the same, and focuses more on productivity and creativity in whatever you are using the computer for. Microsoft knows that work and play are merging, and that for many work is their passion, hobby and love, but cannot bring themselves to accept it. Then again, I think Apple forgets that professionals do need and like professional tools when working, which are not needed when playing.

Microsoft: Office first, Apple: Music, Photos, Documents. I think a huge push and benefit of Windows 8 is the personalization of the environment, it really suits home personal computing, yet their presentation segments always started with work first. I get it, corporates are their biggest users, and Office is their second biggest cash cow, it needs to be promoted. But they missed out on the personal connection that makes the P in PC’s personal in this launch. Apple probably gets too personal and emotional sometimes, but this emotional connection is why people love their Apple products. No-one really loves their Windows PC.

Microsoft: Bing search, Apple: Spotlight built right in. An oddity in my mind, Windows 8 uses a bolt-on search engine, Bing, for local search, whereas Apple uses built-in technology, Spotlight. Windows 8 therefore still continues the Windows tradition of search being an afterthought when search has become one of the key ways people want to and try to use their computers. I am surprised so many iPhone and iPad users swipe left and use the full-screen built-in search for everything. And as a Mac user, I could not do anything without Spotlight.

Microsoft: Tells you what to think, Apple: Tells you what they think. Maybe I am getting a tad pedantic here, but much of the Microsoft launch was people, especially Ballmer, telling the audience what they should think, not what he or Microsoft thinks. Kinda like Fox News tells its audience what they should think about the news. Apple always tells us what they think, but lets us make up our own minds whether we agree or not.

Microsoft: Forecast Sales, Apple: Actual Sales. The Microsoft launch was all about how many Windows 8 devices they will sell, Apple’s was all about how many they did sell. Now, Microsoft seriously dominates the desktop market, but did not talk too much about the penetration of Windows 7. I’ll accept that their tablet and phone products are just being launched properly now, but future sales are snake oil sales until they happen.

Microsoft: Few slides, short demo, Apple: Lots of slides, lots of demos. This one was quite concerning, because I wondered what was wrong that they they did not show more. The launch had a lot of talking, and they talked about a lot of things, but the slides behind the speakers remained the same generic slides for minutes at a time. For example, Ballmer spent 2 minutes talking about Office, yet not once did the slide behind him show any screenshots, features or pricing. The slide remained the same list of products. When he moved on to the Bing applications, the same slide stayed up, no screen shots of the lovely new sports app or the weather app. Why not? As for the demo, it was so quick that I wondered if they were using an alpha level product and were trying to dodge the bugs. I know that’s not true, but it presented that way. Apple uses lots of slides to show the products and features as they present, then demos them in detail. Heck of a difference.

Oh, and Microsoft, 12:01 AM tomorrow is not today, yet presenters kept on using today for availability.

Email Etiquette

I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of emails across a lot of accounts and the time and effort to process my inbox is growing exponentially. I just wish that senders and responders on email would follow some basic etiquette rules that will make our use of email both more pleasant and more productive.

Email is a form of communication which is a reflection of you. Bad email etiquette reflects badly on you, and a record of this is kept in mailboxes over which you have no control. Good email etiquette reflects well on you, improves your public perception and persona and increases the chance of a prompt and comprehensive response. It’s not hard to maintain good email etiquette once you know what it is.

One thing before we start, before creating or responding to an email, ask yourself this: is email the right medium for this communication? If you are not sure, pick up the phone or wander over to the person and have a conversation. Email only if it is the right medium.

And always follow good etiquette. This article contains a comprehensive list of rules and recommendations learned through experience and research.

The Big 5 Windows 8 Lineups

My thoughts on announced hardware for Windows 8 being released this week.

Asus

Asus will be launching their Zenbooks with touch screens for Windows 8 in November, or really replacing the screens on their old Zenbooks with touch screens and selling them as new models.

They are updating their modular tablet to run Windows RT and calling it the Vivo Tab RT. 10.1” with a dock for the low price of $599.00, but it’s just the old transformer with bad resolution, slow CPU’s and better-than-average speakers.

And they have a 23” ET2300 iMac, er All-In-One, ready to go, with the worst integrated Intel graphics chipset, reasonable resolution and an 8GB RAM max. What?

Meh!

Acer

Acer will be launching their iMac, er All-In-One, on October 26 too, the 23” 5600U. A 27” 7600U will follow in November. Both seem a tad underpowered at the base model and the 27” screen has the same resolution as the 23”. What?

The Iconia W700 tablet joins Asus and Lenovo at the same $700.00 price point with an 11.6” IPS display and a bluetooth keyboard. But it does not stand out.

Meh!

Dell

Dell has updated their XPS 12 convertible laptop for Windows 8 and stayed with the awful flip-hinge design, I can’t go on. next!

Their XPS One 27 iMac, er All-In-One, has also been updated for touch, retains its great screen and speed, all starting at $1,699.00. This one may be passable as your home computer. They have a 23” version for under $800.00 too that’s not worth it.

Not excited yet!

HP

HP has announced a more comprehensive lineup, with lots of their devices being updated (for the full list see here). There’s no reason to go in to all of them, but the gist of the announcement is that they have a bunch of frivolous add-ons to make their large number of bland Apple product ripoffs stand out from the Asus, Acer and Dell crowd. And they don’t succeed. And almost none will be available on release day.

The Envy X2 convertible looks like a Macbook Air that separates, with an 11.6” touchscreen and sells for about $850.00. Their Spectre Touchsmart looks like a Mac Pro without the power of a true laptop. And their bigger laptop is only available at Best Buy. Really?

The HP SpectreOne iMac, er All-In-One, though, looks better than the other All-In-Ones so far. They have a 20” and 23” model that seem quite upgradeable, for a fee, and they promote that they are full of crapware. Wait. What?

Humdrum.

Lenovo

Finally, a set of ultrabooks for Windows 8 that stand out. The new IdeaPad Yoga 13” looks great with its radical hinge and colorful case designs and proper componentry including a great hi-resolution IPS display. And there is an 11” light one for RT coming too. This product is interesting and a radical departure from the blandy bland blands of the others.

They also have a competitive 11.6” tablet from $600 called the IdeaTab Lynx which kicks the Asus out of the running. And offer a cheap ultrabook convertible called the ThinkPad Edge Twist that knocks all the other ultrabooks out of the game on price and features. Assuming you want a crappy ultrabook instead of a useable computer, that is.

They also have their own iMac, er All-In-One, but I have not seen one nor gotten any details. I suspect it’s just as boring as the others based on images alone. Surely they can take some of the Yoga ideas and make a better iMac, er All-In-One.

My Take

Windows 8 is an innovative and radical departure for Microsoft, but their hardware partners, except for Lenovo, are too conservative and risk averse to match the innovation. PC buyers are still faced with bland, underpowered, badly assembled, confusing, single-store, crapware filled but cheap (Yay?) computers in every market segment imaginable. I think this lack of innovation in the hardware space is going to hurt Microsoft Windows 8 as much as the actual Windows 8 confusion will.

But there are a few bright spots. Lenovo’s bright new Yoga convertibles are brilliant, and Samsung’s current Series 7 tablets that support Windows 8 are pretty good too.

I’m hoping for more at the Windows 8 launch this week, but so far, excluding the two bright spots, none of the big boys is doing anything to make me feel excited. It feels like Apple is racing ahead in hardware and no-one is even trying to catch up or better them. We need more and better competition and innovation in the tech space, Windows 8 is a start. It’s up to Microsoft’s partners to do something great, and they just don’t seem that interested.

There’d Be Something Called a Mini

My thoughts on today’s announcements by Apple.

13” Retina Macbook Pro

The 13” Retina Macbook Pro looks good, is priced high as expected, and is probably going to sell very very well. But the 8GB RAM limit and the lack of an external graphics card to drive the Retina display is puzzling. The 15” has an external NVIDIA GT 650M and can go up to 16GB RAM, that makes it a pro machine. The old 13” Pro had the same limitations, odd.

Apple now has three 13” laptops in the market, the 13” Air, the 13” Pro and the 13” Retina Pro. This seems like product proliferation to me after years of keeping the product line simple. My wife has the current 13” Air and it’s the best laptop I have ever used. The only reason I can think of them keeping the old 13” Pro is price until they can get Retinas cheaper, but I cannot imagine who would buy one.

Mac mini

The little achiever gets one heck of a speed bump, better connectivity and lower power consumption. I know many people who are replacing their old Mac Pros with these because they perform better. Maybe I should too. A 2TB server in an Airport Express box that uses almost no power is a brilliant deal for a grand.

iPad 4

As an iPad 3 owner, I do not feel robbed or ripped off by the release of the iPad 4. Firstly, Apple has been needing to shift the iPad launch schedule for a while to meet Apple’s busiest buying period, the end of year holidays. The old schedule had them competing old iPads with newer devices. Secondly, the new iPad 4 is an incremental update, it fixes some of the performance and heat problems with the iPad 3, but does not significantly change the product. It’s what the iPad 3 should have been. And it takes big brass cojones to kill your most successful product after 6 months, others would have waited the 18 months. My iPad 3 will be just fine until the iPad 5 ships this time next year, and for a whole lot longer.

Again, I do not understand the keeping of the iPad 2 in the lineup, unless it is somehow still selling at that price point. Once again, too many choices, and why would someone buy an iPad 2 when the iPad mini or iPad 4 are not far off in price.

iPad Mini

I still believe the new iPad mini is going to be the must-have gift this season. The iPad 2 internals are excellent, the size and weight are brilliant, and the screen size and pixel density means that all current iPad apps work just fine. It really is just a smaller, improved, iPad 2 with full access to the whole ecosystem. I was hoping for a Retina screen, that will happen in the next year or two as the price of Retina screens comes down.

I also think that Apple has something in the pricing, its a lot higher that the competition who are selling far cheaper products at no margin. Apple wants the middle and top end of the market and has priced the iPad mini at the sweet spot just above the market followers (where people buying any other tablet will receive raised eyebrows and hints of cheapskateness or insanity), and where they will sell every one they can make with enough margin to make a hefty profit. Too bad Wall Street analysts are too stupid to work out that margins are good.

But I won’t be buying one. One cannot go back once one is used to Retina on the iPhone and iPad 3. Unless I get a contract to develop software for it, that is.

iMac

By the power of Grayskull, this device is gorgeous. Except for the chin, but that will go in the next revision. I’m not talking about the thin edges or the pregnant hump in the back, I’m talking about the screen. They have finally melded the display with the front glass like they did on the iPhone and iPad and solved the glare issue. If only they released this screen as a standalone, I’d finally replace the old Cinema HD Display.

Pricing and performance means the new iMacs are wicked fast, but note only the 27” has upgradeable RAM. Apple has every right to brag about having the best desktops in the market.

Fusion Drive

The new Fusion Drive idea is interesting, and if it works as advertised, it’s great. The way I figure it, this is not one of the hybrid drives which have SSD caches to boost performance. They simply have a separate SSD and HDD in the computer and software, probably Core Storage, auto-allocates files to drives based on usage of them. This kind of allocation algorithm has been available in expensive server storage systems that have SSDs, fast HDDs and slower drives for years, good to see it come to the Mac. I am hoping that I can take the SSD and HDD combo in my laptop and make it a fusion drive, or add a SSD to the Pro, but we’ll see if that ever happens.

iBooks

The other big release today is iBooks. It’s about time someone realized that eBooks can be read with infinite scrolling instead of skeuomorphic pagination. The addition of textbook features for formulae, new widgets and new templates are a nice. But the biggest feature is the in-place update of iBook textbooks. No-one else does this, and for text books, it’s a must so kids are always up to date. I do hope this applies to all the other tech books I buy from now on at the iBookstore.

Summary

All in all, the rumor sites guessed it all except for the new iMac and Fusion Drive. And Wall Street killed Apple stock because they just don’t get it as usual. There was no mention of new displays, the Mac Pro, the new iTunes, a TV, jet packs, quantum batteries or warp drive, nor was any mention expected, yet both analysts and pundits reported these as failures.

Tim Cook and Phil Schiller put on an great show and released a suite of products that any other company would die for. I think Schiller actually had to rush parts of his presentation because they had too much material.

I’m looking forward to Microsoft and Google’s attempts to get even close to this standard. And to seeing their stocks plunge as they also fail to announce their own jet packs, quantum batteries or warp drives.