Making it better

Fraser Speirs (tip o’ the antlers to Marco Arment):

Think of the millions of hours of human effort spent on preventing and recovering from the problems caused by completely open computer systems. Think of the lengths that people have gone to in order to acquire skills that are orthogonal to their core interests and their job, just so they can get their job done.

In today’s Macworld piece (now up), the Macalope takes to task someone complaining the iPad doesn’t print. Speirs sums up the point he was trying to make nicely.

Nutbooks

Everyone knows by now that Apple announced record results again this week (BOR-ING!) but one thing of note is that laptop sales increased an astounding 35% year-over-year for the back-to-school quarter.

Wait, back to school? That rings a bell. Why, wasn’t there recently some big to-do on the web about how Apple was going to lose back-to-school sales to netbooks?!

Yes, rhetorical question generator, there was! It was back in August when multiple Mac web sites went nuts and took the word of that firm that nobody had ever heard of before at face value, uncritically reporting their stupid-ass survey as if it were the harbinger of DOOOOM for Apple.

Yeah, not so much.

Survey results

Astonishing! Macalope readers prefer the MacBook over netbooks by a bazillion to one! And it’s completely science-riffic!

Please take this short survey!

Unsatisfied with the results of the Retrevo survey on back-to-school laptop purchasing, the Macalope has decided to conduct his own competing survey.

Please take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to complete this highly important and completely scientific survey.

Remember, we’re particularly interested in back-to-school shoppers (hint-hint).

Click here to proceed.

UPDATE: Oops! Survey is back online. (Apparently there was a free limit of 100, but what’s $20 in the name of science?)

Indeed

“The dawn of the netbook” is the new “the year of desktop linux”.

- Cameron Hunt (one of the makers of Birdhouse)

Apple losing sales to netbooks?

The Macalope has seen this Retrevo survey linked to a number of places and has some real questions about it.

First of all, Retrevo is not a research firm like Gartner. They’re a conduit to online sales. Do they get a cut of the sales from affiliate fees? The Macalope can’t tell from their web site.

Second, it’s interesting to note that one of their partners is HP, maker of netbooks. Maybe Apple is a partner too and they’re just not listed. Doubtful, but possible. HP is also specifically mentioned in the press release as one of the low-cost netbook alternatives to a MacBook. As a matter of fact, they’re the only other laptop vender mentioned. Hmm.

Third, what “trend” does their latest press release show? The title of their press release is:

Retrevo Survey Says Apple Loses Back-to-School Laptop Shoppers to Netbook & PC

Yet the press release says nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, it says very little.

Retrevo, the consumer electronics marketplace, released today a new Gadgetology study indicating 34% of students buying laptops are planning on purchasing small, lightweight netbooks. Another 49% are buying full-sized PC laptops. The majority of student laptop shoppers will not consider buying a Mac.

Assuming the second number excludes Macs, 34 + 49 = 83. Does that mean 17% of those surveyed are buying Mac laptops? What was Apple’s market share last year? How many sales or how much market share has Apple supposedly “lost” compared to last year?

They don’t provide that data. They just go on to castigate Apple for not having a low-cost laptop. It’s certainly possibly that netbooks are stealing the low end of the market where Apple doesn’t compete and it’s possible they’re growing that end of the market, but there’s absolutely nothing in their press release that show that Apple is losing sales to netbooks.

The majority of student laptop shoppers will not consider buying a Mac.

Uh, yeah. Apple has a market share below 10 percent. Of course the majority of even student laptop shoppers aren’t considering them.

Fourth, is an online sample size of 300 really statistically valid? That seems awfully low to the pointy one, but he’s no statistician.

This just seems very dubious.

ADDED: As TC points out in comments, this is only going to tell you something about what visitors to their site think (the survey was only of site visitors). And isn’t that an important bit of selection bias right there? What Retrevo does is pull together the prices from various online outlets. Their visitors are already self-defined as low-cost shoppers. They’re trying to find the lowest price. Don’t most Macs get sold through Apple’s online store and retail outlets anyway? How many people are ever going to visit Retrevo with the thought of buying a Mac?

MORE: Look at their “value map” for Apple laptops. Only three – the three cheapest – rate a “fair value”. All the others are rated “low value”. Ask yourself if that’s a fair assessment of Apple laptops. Again, it certainly appears that people who visit Retrevo’s site have some pre-conceived ideas about Apple’s laptop offerings. To these people low price = good value. To the Macalope, that describes a group that would rarely buy an Apple laptop in the first place.

Not talkin' 'bout a revolution

InfoWorld’s Neil McAllister gives netbooks a serious fluffing in his piece called “The shape of the coming netbook revolution”.

For example, did you know that netbooks are…

Cheap, portable and packed with features that cater to Net-savvy consumers…

“Packed with features”? Ah, like email and a web browser and… a screen… and, er… that other thing.

And “Net-savvy”? Really? Did you write that? Because, wow.

To support his trite argument about how super-cool netbooks are, MacAllister links to a piece on a ChangeWave survey that shows that given the choice between netbooks and oxygen, they’ll take the netbook, thank you very much, where the following can be found:

Increased notebook demand could mean good news for Apple Inc., whose market share has been slipping, according to ChangeWave, partly because it does not offer a cheap option such as a netbook.

The link here is to a piece on another ChangeWave survey (not market share analysis) of future buying preferences. It says fewer people ChangeWave surveyed said they were going to buy Macs and while that might be predictive of market share, that’s not market share. The Macalope’s not even sure if ChangeWave does market share analysis. They mostly do surveys.

But back to MacAllister who tells us what is it about these netbooks that make them so hot, hot, hot.

Netbooks’ tiny screens and cramped keyboards can be fatiguing to use for long periods, and their low-power processors struggle under heavy workloads. Business users will be dismayed by their lack of security features… And with their closed hardware designs and limited drive space, most models have short upgrade lifecycles.

Oh, Neil. You had the Macalope at tiny screens.

Flush with their intial successes, however, manufacturers have responded to these complaints with variations on the original theme. … Both Asus and Acer plan to ship netbooks with 11.6-inch screens in the near future. … Some models list for $700 or more, leaving many customers wondering where the netbook category ends and where laptops begin.

So the main appeal of netbooks is they’re small and cheap, but the problem with them is that they’re small and cheap. So companies are responding to criticism by making them larger and more expensive, effectively turning them back into notebooks.

But, still…

Netbooks! Whaa-hoo! Wave of the future! Number one! McAllister can see your house from up here!

And, hey, who ordered the IT industry group think?

A Linux-based UI may not cut it for day-to-day business computing, but for limited Web access, file viewing, and communications it should be more than adequate for most users.

Oh, really?

Look, the Linux UI is as exciting as dried toast, but is it any worse than XP, which is the operating system most businesses run (now available as a downgrade from Vista for only $50 more!)?

And how ludicrous is this complaint about the Linux desktop in a piece about netbooks? “Here’s your netbook with the glorious XP desktop from two thousand fricking one, business user! Enjoy the cramped keyboard and the tiny screen!” Right. Linux is really the drawback.

OK, this isn’t a horrible piece, it’s just silly. All this prostrating at the holy church of the netbook just strikes the Macalope as the latest technology industry paean to the flavor of the day. Remember net PCs and how we were all going to be using thin clients and, jeez, Apple better make one of those soon or it’s DOOOOMED?

Netbooks are simply cheap little laptops. But someone decided to slap the name “netbook” on them and pretend they’re some kind of innovation other than the same forces that have been at work in computers since the ENIAC, driving size and cost down. At least the net PC represented a new paradigm (or a return to an old paradigm).

This is not a “revolution”. It’s simple evolution. Cheap, plasticy evolution.

Such stuff as dreams are made of

This week’s piece at Macworld looks at the tablet thingamajiggy that is surely coming soon because everyone says so.

Word of warning

Glenn Fleishman noted this on Twitter yesterday, but Apple is no longer sending reminder emails to sign up for AppleCare. This burned the Macalope as well, who had planned to sign up at the end of the one year of warranty coverage, expected to be reminded then missed the date.

The horny one can only guess that the company has realized that charging people for repairs is more profitable than insuring them. Which doesn’t seem reassuring.

UPDATE: The comments seem to indicate that others are still receiving emails. Rather odd. The Macalope’s experience has always been that Apple sends out several notifications – strange that he and Fleishman received none.

You get what you pay for

This whole horse has been beaten into a mass of only vaguely horse-like matter by now, but as BusinessWeek’s Arik Hesseldahl points out, Microsoft’s actress paid less for the laptop she got because, dur-hey, it’s worth less.