Is Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach starting to fail?

My mother-in-law cracked me up when she asked “What’s the matter with Apple, how come they only make things in one or two sizes?” She’s as non-techie as they come and I think she nailed an important point. I’ve joked about this with friends and colleagues and even mocked about it in presentations. Yet, ever since the Apple September 10th announcement I’ve been wondering: can Apple innovate enough to stay a true technological leader, or are they starting to enter an era of simply copying others and wrapping ‘improvements’ under a luxury brand umbrella? I’m leaning towards to latter. After seeing Tim Cook’s presentation on September 10th, my opinion has started to solidify even more.

Factoid: Everyone will agree, for better or for worse, we are in an era of choice. Look at the variety of Androids. Think about the sheer number of cable and satellite TV channels, the variety of TV shows aimed at a dizzying variety of demographics, music has splintered from the days of major rock bands into hundreds of niche, self published indie groups.  Satellite radio. Most major car manufacturers now have dozens of car models and many of them you can significantly customize. And, even grocery stores now have a ridiculous number of choices for a lot of items that use to only have several manufacturers or producers.

So, what about Apple?

Apple has so far resisted playing to the status quo set by IBM, Microsoft and now Android of allowing endless variations of their products to fit a variety of needs and wants. It wasn’t that long ago, for example, that Dell Computer was a leader in selling desktop and laptop computers. That era has passed and I don’t believe Apple wants to follow in these giants footsteps. Perhaps there is some sort of evolutionary cycle that these leading public tech companies follow, like natural boom and bust cycles that we see in economics, neighborhoods, cities and world economies that Apple won’t be able to escape.

This leads me right back to the September 10th announcement.  Apple seems to have entered an era of incremental improvements in hardware and software: new colors (big whoop), finger print reader (Moto Atrix had that) and faster hardware.  But, the biggest pressure I think they’ll start facing is they are now behind the curve in allowing people to have choices. Real choices…not just new colors for custom cases made of soft silicon rubber. Choices are the way they world is headed right now. Case in point, how long have iPhones had 4-inch screens? How many tens of millions of larger Android screen phones have been sold? Can Apple simply ignore this and stick to their one-size-fits-all guns if the board of directors starts seeing missed opportunities and potentially lower sales?

Android, in comparison to iOS, has more varieties of sizes, manufacturers, shapes and colors than there are grapes for making wine. Buying an Android is like shopping for clothes at any mainstream department store. In addition to a bijillion patterns and colors, you have sizes like XS, SM, M, L, XL, XXL, etc. And then there is relaxed fit, straight fit and athletic fit along with different collar sizes.  This is brilliant from a consumer standpoint, and yes it’s a nightmare for application developers and IT shops that support them. But, developers and IT folks only represent a small fraction of an enormous world-wide porous marketplace full of more consumers, cultures and tastes than perhaps existed in history.

Buying a Mac is like walking into a top-notch art gallery. As you glide along into the next majestic room, shuffling your feet in hushed respect you can hear the mac genius say in an elegant foreign accent, “…and here on this masterfully carved solid white marble pedestal, fabulously embellished with an aluminum case and crystal clear retina view screen, and protected from theft by 12 visible and hidden security features is, ladies and gentlemen…the (audience gasps) Apple Macbook Pro.”

But, at some point even art galleries change up their exhibits as people’s tastes and interests change.  Even galleries have to innovate to stay ahead of the times. Can Apple change? Can Apple adapt to a new era of endless choices? Can Apple reinvent itself?

The 1 Minute Primer for HTML 5

HTML 5 is getting a lot of press these days and I get a constant stream of questions from many non-techies, as well as developers, asking me to explain HTML5 in layman’s terms. So here it is.

HTML 5 is really a combination of three things: HTML, CSS and JavaScript. When all three of these technologies work together in a web browser then you have an HTML5 application. Period.

Why should we care about HTML 5? HMTL 5 brings many long awaited enhancements that make it easier for web developers to build more complex applications. More importantly, HTML 5 is being adopted by the major browser vendors: Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple and this adoption is making it possible for developers to take advantage of the latest web technology that are built into web browsers.

How is HTML 5 “built into a web browser”? Web browsers have to interpret a web page first, and then display the content for you. Browsers contain logic that let’s them parse a pages’ code, and that code provides instructions for the browser to do certain things. Behind the scenes, in fact, the page you are looking at is built using code. It’s the browser that interprets the code and displays it in a way that makes sense to you. If you haven’t ever seen web page code then you can usually select View > Source on your browsers tool bar. Cool, right?!

HTML 5. HTML 5 is the latest version of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) specification which has been around in various forms since approximately 1991. HTML is a tag based language that defines the meaning and placement of elements of a web page. For example, a <button> tag defines a clickable button on a web page.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Cascading Style Sheets, or more specifically CSS version 3 (a.k.a CSS3), provide the ability to apply styling to HTML elements. An example of styling would be to change the color of an HTML <button> from grey to green, as well as defining where on a web page it will be visible such as the top left corner.

JavaScript. JavaScript, which is really the meat behind HTML 5, is a type of programming language that lets developers implement actions within a web page. An example of an “action” would be when a web page visitor clicks a button that loads a picture. So, HTML defines the <button>, CSS styles the button, and JavaScript handles the action behind the scenes by retrieving the picture and then telling the browser how to display it for the end user.

This all sounds great, are there any downsides? Yes. First, HTML 5 is a standards-based specification that is still a work in progress. The specification and all its’ associated parts won’t be finalized for some time, possibly years. The good news is that browser vendors are keen to adopt this standard as much as possible. Second, implementation across different browsers isn’t 100% consistent. The good news is that there are tools and online resources to help developers work around many of these problems. Last, older versions of browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer 7 or 8, older versions of Safari, etc) don’t support HTML 5. There are strong campaigns under way to educate people to upgrade for security, performance and viewing experience.

So, there you have it. That’s a cursory pass at HTML 5 and I hope this post helps. I’ve added a few links at the bottom if you want to learn more about it.

Learn More: – includes information on features, tutorials and great slide decks. –  includes live “Try it” samples that let you explore the functionality.

W3C HTML 5 Specification –the World Wide Web Consortium is the group that writes the standards. If you are a techie, this is “the” specification that the browser vendors base their functionality on.

Debugging Flex-AIR apps on iPhone and iPad

Debugging iPad or iPhone apps that you built with FlashBuilder has a number of extra steps that you don’t need when developing with Android. This is especially true if you use Windows as your primary operating system. The good news is that once you’ve done it once or twice it should be fairly straight forward. So here are a few hints to get you going.

Step 0. If you are building on Windows make sure to install the latest version of iTunes. Then check that your iPad or iPhone can be synched with iTunes. If you use a mac you’ve most likely already done this step (in your sleep a hundred times).

Step 1. Make sure you have a certificate and provisioning file. This must be configured under FlashBuilder Project > Properties > Flex Build Packaging. IMPORTANT: If the certificate and provisioning file are not set up or are not valid you will not be able to compile your project. If you don’t know what this is or how to do it, additional info can be found here in a great blog post by Holly Schinsky (@devgirlFL).

Step 2. Set up a Debug Configuration. If you don’t know where that is, select the pulldown next to the bug icon on the FlashBuilder toolbar and then choose Debug Configuration, or go to Run > Debug Configurations. Choose Apple iOS as your Target Platform. Be sure to select the On Device Packaging Method > Fast! If you don’t do this and you choose the Standard option it will take five or more minutes to compile the build each time you hit debug, and that can become a huge time waster really fast. One advantage of using the Standard option is it will perform more like the final release build. In comparison, the Fast version won’t be as performant. So, for the vast majority of your debugging you should probably use Fast, and when you want to test a final build then you might want to choose Standard. When you are ready select the Debug button.

Step 3.  You will then see a popup window with six important instructions. Once you have completed Steps one and two, select the Show package in Explorer link.

Step 4. Drag the .ipa file from your file browser window into the iTunes Library > Apps area.

Step 5. Select the Sync button on the bottom right hand corner of iTunes. You should see Sync In Progress screen on your device. Let the operation complete. When it’s finished you should see a message in the message box at the top of iTunes that says the sync was successful. If there was an error it will also show up in the message box at the top of the iTumes application window.

Step 6. Launch the application on your iPad or iPhone. You should get a popup window titled Flash Debugger that asks for the IP address or hostname.  Important:  your iPad or iPhone and your development machine need to be on the same wireless LAN, if they aren’t then this step won’t work. If you don’t have a wireless LAN handy you can always log both machines into a MiFi or some other type of mobile hotspot. Then enter the IP address of your development machine. On a windows machine you can easily get that in a DOS prompt using the command ipconfig. Hit OK.

The Final Result. If all goes well the app will launch and you will start to see debugging output in FlashBuilder.