The Macalope Weekly: Spurious arguments


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The terrible thing about all these pieces that the Macalope goes through is that there are some very good arguments that could be made about things that Apple’s done wrong. It’s just that these aren’t them. Apple’s retail presence, for example, is still the envy of the world, no matter what someone’s personal preference is. You may not like transparency in iOS 7, but it’s not the end of the world. And while the new Nexus 7 is a better tablet than the old one, it’s not an iPad-mini-killer.

Making dreams reality

When you’re a really good pundit, you don’t need to worry about evidence. You just need to declare your personal impressions as fact. Like Brian Sozzi does when writing for Yahoo Finance.

“Apple’s Stores Are Lame, Tired, and Emotionless” (tip o’ the antlers to the Jony Ive parody account on Twitter).

Heck, why not just make it all about you?

“Everything happens for a reason.” Remember carving that into a giant rock back in high school when a beau kicked you to the curb?

Uh, kind of weirdly specific, there, Brian. Is there something you need to talk about? With a licensed professional? Because we don’t really care to hear about your high school traumas. We have our own high school traumas we’re still trying to live down. Like going to the blackboard to solve a math problem and realizing right then that your antlers were popping out. Ugh.

This classic saying used amongst scorned tweens, oddly, is easily applied to investing.

And the emotional depth and understanding of tweens is similarly applicable to your average investment professional.

Apple’s (AAPL) now distant third quarter earnings release from July left a bad taste in my mouth, but not due to the obvious (that would be older pieces of overhyped plastic eating away at profit margins).

Please identify which pieces of “overhyped plastic” you’re talking about as, other than some iPods, none of Apple’s current lineup is made of plastic.

Let me voice this upfront: the problems at Apple’s retail stores extend beyond the lack of an executive overseeing the division’s strategy. (Might want to give a ring to JC Penney paycheck thief Ron Johnson to reprise his role as Apple’s retail leader, at least he knows how to do that.)

Because Ron Johnson couldn’t in a year and a half fix the predicament it took Penney decades to get into, Sozzi calls him a “paycheck thief.” As opposed to people who write up Apple-bashing posts for Yahoo Finance.

Rather, it has to do with actions, or lack thereof, coming from the top that has allowed rivals to invade on previously well-guarded market share turf.

Wait, when was Apple’s market share ever that well guarded? Sure, it had the tablet market locked solid for a ridiculously long time while Android OEMs lurched about like drunken elk trying to drive bumper cars through an Ikea (it was a fraternity prank), but it certainly never had the PC market or the phone market.

Given the competition being in the market with products conveying a wow factor …

As in, “Wow, that’s really cheap!”

… Apple’s retail stores are increasingly being viewed by consumers as a destination selling overpriced commodity products. Think I am wildly off base?

Well, the Macalope’s not going through this for his health.

Check out the weakening run rate in visitors per store, per week.

Which happens to be the envy of any other retailer on the planet, let alone Apple’s competitors, only one of which has a serious retail presence—and each of its stores just happens to be right across from, and look remarkably similar to, Apple Stores. Ha-ha! What a weird coincidence!

Unlike Apple, Sony doesn’t disclose the financials of its retail stores and, in fact, it’s not visibly obvious from the company’s website who runs the division. Secrecy aside, Sony is on to something …

How can we tell? Well, because Sozzi says so, that’s how! Literally, his analysis is “I like Sony’s stores better.” He has no proof they’re doing well at all, let alone better than Apple’s stores, so he declares by fiat that they are.

In Sozzi’s defense, as he proudly notes in his bio (tip o’ the antlers to Dafydd Williams), he does also write for Forbes and Seeking Alpha and he did win the 2011 FT | StarMine Analyst Award for “No. 3 Earnings Estimator in the Textiles Apparel & Luxury Goods Industry.” So, if anyone’s likely to be The Lathe of Heaven, it’s him.

Imaginary predictors

If only it were simple to identify exactly when a technology starts going south. Alas, there are no easy answers. Only easy opinion pieces to write for Gizmodo.

“Frosted Glass Effects: Why I Switched to Android After All These Years” (tip o’ the antlers to Paul Stachniak and D.F. Manno).

Andreas Goeldi would like you to know that:

Some people have called me an Apple fanboy.

Now before you roll your eyes and then gouge them out so you don’t have to read Goeldi’s very earnest explanation of how he’s not trolling, you should know that every “Why I’m switching to Android” piece must, by international law, start with the pundit laying out his Apple street cred. Having fulfilled his duty as laid out by The Hague, Goeldi is now allowed to continue.

Look, nobody likes the things you have to suffer through to get someplace you actually want to go—such as dealing with the TSA to take a flight somewhere or driving through New Jersey to get to New York—but they have to be done.

When a technology vendor can’t keep up with the speed of innovation anymore, it resorts to incrementally copying other’s innovations and starts adding pointless visual gimmicks, such as frosted glass effects.

Seriously? That’s it? That’s why you switched? Suddenly the Macalope is thinking he’d rather be frisked at Newark International Airport forever than continue reading this piece.

Case in point: Windows Vista.

I switched to Macs in 2006, after almost two decades using Microsoft OSes. … what was the most remarkable new feature of this next-gen OS?

Very cool-looking frosted glass effects in windows titles.

The Macalope would argue that Vista’s translucency was anything but “very cool-looking.” Also, it must have been rather confusing for Goeldi when Apple introduced the transparent menu bar in Leopard in 2007.

A few weeks ago Apple introduced iOS 7, the first major overhaul since the iPhone came out. It has a ton of new features, almost all of which Android users have enjoyed for years. It fixes a lot of old problems, and …

… it has frosted glass effects. Lots of them.

And when Goeldi says “lots” he means “not that many.” Windows Vista literally had transparency throughout the OS. Every single window was transparent. iOS 7 has it where things are pulled down over the main operating layer of the OS, so in Notification Center and Control Center. It’s not omnipresent and it’s not overbearing.

A few minutes after installing the iOS 7 beta I just knew I needed to switch to Android. I have found myself using more and more Google apps on my iPhone over the past 18 months or so.

OK, so it’s not just about transparency. Which is good because, as the Macalope noted, this isn’t the first time that Apple has used it. In fact, open a menu in OS X and—guess what—it’s transparent. It’s just not filmed in Glaucomavision like Vista was. And the hot mess that is Windows 8 has little to no transparency.

Despite Goeldi’s argument to the contrary, transparency is not in and of itself a harbinger of doom. Otherwise BlackBerry would have the most translucent operating system ever created.

The best tablet at this specific price

Say, how’s it going over at Business Insider? The Macalope hasn’t ventured over there much of late, mostly because his doctor told him he was reading too many caps-laden headlines about Apple doom.

That’s not a medical diagnosis; the Macalope’s doctor just thinks caps-laden headlines about Apple doom are douchey.

In his Nexus 7 review (no link but tip o’ the antlers to Harry Marks), Business Insider’s Steve Kovach wants you to know up front how awesome and iPad mini-clobbering it is. Way up front, before he gets to the gigantic caveats.

As good as the hardware is, the Nexus 7 suffers from the same major software problem as every other Android tablet out there. Most Android apps are designed for smartphones, not tablets with 7-inch+ screens. Most Android apps look awkward when blown up on a bigger screen.

Ah, so as long as users don’t want to run apps, the new Nexus 7 is the best small tablet out there. Good to know!

Next, there’s the battery life. Google claims the Nexus 7 can get about 10 hours of battery life, but it sort of fudged the way it tested the battery …

Imagine that.

Still, I think seven hours is more than enough battery life for most people. It may not be as good as the iPad Mini’s 10-hour battery life …

Yes, 7 hours of battery life “may not” be as good as 10 hours. Presumably it will require more testing to figure that out.

Now watch this logical feat of tae kwon duh!

Is having less battery life and fewer tablet apps worth the $100 in savings? For most people, the answer is probably yes.

Then why didn’t “most people” buy the previous Nexus 7 instead of the iPad mini?

The new Nexus 7 isn’t just a great tablet for the price. It’s a great tablet, period.

Literally one paragraph earlier Kovach was telling us it was the price difference that negated the lousy app selection and poorer battery life. So, clearly, it isn’t a great tablet at any price. Which would be ridiculous. The original iPad was a huge hit because of its $500 price point. It took Android tablet OEMs three years to effectively compete against the iPad, and the primary way they’ve done it is by selling tablets at cost.

The new Nexus 7 seems to be a solid improvement over the old one. But the old one wasn’t really that great, it was just cheap. And the next iPad mini, whenever it comes, will be a solid improvement over the current model. That’s how this game is played.

Instead of all this dullery, the Macalope will leave you with a very smart piece by the very smart Ben Thompson:

“The iPad is like the iPod, not the iPhone.”

Thompson predicts that when Apple updates the mini, it will ship a non-Retina version for $249 and a Retina version for $399. This horny prognosticator doesn’t know if that’s true, but he does know that looking forward to what might be coming is smarter than believing over and over again that every current product release is the end of history.

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