Category: News


Over the past several years, and as recently reported by Computerworld, the adoption of Apple’s Mac has blown way past the expectations of even the most favorable industry pundits.  But Apple might be writing the ticket to its own demise.

Several years ago, Apple made the notorious, and ultimately well received switchover to Intel processors.  Undoubtedly they were driven in part by the realization they couldn’t continue to march along with relatively unique processor platforms while keeping up with market demands for innovation and just raw production. 

But from the signs in the market today, that switch to x86 hardware may be taking a bite out of Apple right where it counts.  The problem is, x86 brings with it components built for a huge mass market, and often at such scale that some mis-steps are hard to avoid.  While the market likely bent to Apple’s demands for high degrees of customization and quality in the initial generations, many users are discovering the same doesn’t hold true for the latest gen equipment.  A quick examination of a few reported MacBook Pro issues makes the case.

  • MBP 17″ display issues, perhaps blamed on Nvidia’s controller used with a dual-link display.
  • Unibody MBP 15″ and 13.3″ SATA controller issues, that limited SATA support to the 1.5Gbps first generation standard, in a market where 3.0Gbps SATA II is quickly becoming ubiquitous.  
  • A botched firmware update — EFI 1.7 — that attempted to switch on SATA II capabilities, but in fact caused worse incompatibilities with a number of drives, set the stage for numerous logicboard replacements, and instigated the eventual release of an unprecedented firmware “downgrade” hack.

Based on Apple’s responsiveness to the reported issues (which pretty much consists of lack thereof) all of these issues seem to be unresolvable.  The latter two issues are extensively documented in this ever growing forum thread over at MacRumors – a thread that has rapidly grown to over 1,580 posts, with no apparent end in site.  Numerous blog and news posts around the web reference same issue and thread.

Speaking from experience, the SATA controller issues are personally bothersome for this author, and have in fact altered my plans to update my own MBP systems to the latest unibody models.  Perhaps I need to be shopping for a trusty old PowerPC model.

The question for current users: has Apple permanently altered the long term residual value of their computing investment?  With resale values holding high, Mac users often expect some residual value that justify the high prices of the platform.  If the new unibodies ultimately prove unable to host SATA II devices effectively, and if SATA I devices become unavailable as replacement drives, does the latest generation MBP become a paperweight?

In my own field of expertise, an observation lingers.  For those convinced that the ease of access to impressive spindles, SSDs, and storage software like ZFS are changing the game, don’t go too far.  Apple is demonstrating that even on the consumer side, storage takes some attention to details.

Toshiba announced on Monday a limited edition dual-touchscreen ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) running Windows 7 that will be available for purchase from select retailers later this summer. Called the Libretto W100, it could be a challenge to Apple’s iPad, suggest some critics; however, unlike Apple’s single-panel touchscreen computer, Toshiba’s new UMPC sticks to the traditional clamshell design found in most laptops and netbooks. Toshiba did not announce pricing for the W100.

What are the Specs?

The W100 is powered by a 1.2 GHz Intel U5400 processor, and has 2GB DDR3 RAM, a 62GB solid state hard drive and two 7-inch (diagonal) touchscreens with 1024 by 600 resolution. The UMPC is running Windows 7 Home Premium and features a virtual keyboard with haptic feedback that can be configured in six different ways including full, numeric 10-key (number pad), and split thumb. Other specs include 1 megapixel Webcam with face recognition technology, microSD card slot, one USB 2.0 port. 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1. Toshiba did not announce a 3G option for the W100.

Toshiba has also included its Bulletin Board personal organization application, and Toshiba ReelTime software that offers a visual version history of your saved documents.

How do the Dual Screens Work?

 

The W100 can be configured as a traditional laptop with a viewing area on one screen and a full keyboard on the other. You can also open the device flat and use both screens as one slate–albeit with a break in between them–to view Web pages and other documents requiring more screen space. You can also use each screen to run different applications at the same time such as an e-mail application on the bottom screen and your Web browser or music application on the top.

The W100 also has a built-in accelerometer that lets you use the device in both landscape and portrait modes.

How Much will it Cost?

 

Toshiba has not announced a price yet, but Engadget and Fast Company are reporting that the price will be around 1000 dollars or more.

Where can I Get it and When?

Toshiba will be selling the W100 on its own retail Website, ToshibaDirect, as well as select U.S. retailers that have not been announced yet. There’s no official launch date for the W100 outside of “later this summer,” but Reuters is reporting Toshiba will release the W100 in Japan in late August followed by Europe and the U.S. after that. So it’s possible we may not see the W100 hit American store shelves until September.

Why Limited Edition?

 

Toshiba is releasing the W100 as part of the company’s 25th anniversary, and even though it is being sold to the public the device is still being referred to as a concept design. So it’s unclear what the fate of the W100 will be in the long term.

Toshiba is not the only company developing a dual-touschscreen computer. Computer manufacturers like Asus and MSI have also been showing off similar designs at industry trade shows in recent months

The whole video format situation couldn’t be more confusing if it was intended as a practical joke. “Hey, let’s create a file format with no compatibility standards, and pass out lots of files that may or may not work. And while we’re at it, let’s fill that salt shaker with sugar.”

If you have an .mp3 audio file, you can be reasonably sure that it will play on any program or device that plays .mp3s. If you have a .jpg, you can view that photo in anything that can view .jpgs.

Not so with .avi, .mpeg, and other video file types. These aren’t really video formats, but merely containers for data in other formats. These file types usually contain video data in one format (or codec) and audio data in another. For instance, you can have one .avi file with Motion.JPEG video and PCM audio, and another with XVID Mpeg-4 video and IMA-ADPCM audio. Fun, isn’t it?

That’s why one .avi file will play just fine in Windows Media Player, another will play the video but not audio (or visa versa), and another one not at all. And if your HDTV or Blu-ray player can play videos off a flash drive, it might succeed or fail on different files than will Windows Media Player.

So how do you find out what codecs a particular video file holds inside? The obvious thing to do is right-click the file, select Properties, and click the Details tab. That will tell you the length of the video, the resolution, and the video and audio bit rates. But not the codecs–vital information you may need to play that file. Maybe Microsoft is in on the practical joke.