Six Thousand Cheering Fans

MacBookAirI raced home tonight to watch two hours of programming that will never appear on television. You may not even recognize the name of the program: “WWDC2013” I don’t know how many other people watched, but I suspect it’s over a million.

It’s difficult to think of any company whose business partners are also its biggest fans. Throughout today’s Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference, every time an Apple executive introduced a new feature, the crowd went wild–just like they do on “The Price Is Right.” Here, we’re talking about the addition of tags to file icons in the Finder menus, so the applause (which seemed genuine, and was likely not prompted by the “Applause!” signs that hang above game show audiences).

Think about this: Apple one of the top companies in the world. Twice a year, they hold an event in a large auditorium to tell partners and customers about the latest MacBook Air, or improvements in their  operating system, and they generate more excitement than the majority major league sporting events ( more press, too).

This phenomenon goes far beyond traditional product marketing or consumer behavior. On the very popular MacRumors website, which does nothing but track possible directions that Apple may go, there was a countdown clock with the number of days, hours and seconds until the big event. I checked the site at least once a day (okay, three or four times a day) to see whether anything new was posted. This is obsessive behavior, not at all reasonable, and completely dissimilar to anything else in my life. I’m hardly the only one who is engaging in this silliness.

Today, Apple announced that they now own the number one slots in desktop and notebook computer sales. Their five year growth is more than 5x the entire PC industry. Their iPad and iPhone are industry leaders. The entire ecosystem works together as one–and they’re improving their iCloud systems so that the experience is that much more satisfying, rich, and competitive. Each successful product adds to the value of the whole, not just for the company, for every participant in Apple’s supremely well-constructed and well-managed ecosystem. It’s a brilliant bit of 21st century thinking, and it’s remarkable that there aren’t a dozen other companies with similar schemes.

I probably spent more combined time with my iPhone, iPad and iMac than I do with anything else I own. They contain my creative work, my communications with just about everybody I know, my schedule, my written work… in short, they play a very significant role in my daily life. Do I have an emotional connection to these metal and plastic parts? I want to say no, but I did spend the evening watching two hours of Apple propaganda this evening (and rushed home to do it).

Is this some sort of a man-machine addiction? I do find myself at something of a loss if I’m separated from my stuff for too long. I do spend time with Apple products just as soon as I wake up and in the minutes before I head for my bedroom and sleep. And I’m not disclosing these personal habits because I think they’re unique. I suspect there are a few million people who are behaving in ways that are far more extreme than the ways I think about these tools.

I could go on, but I do have some things I want to do tonight. (No, I’m not going to stroke an iPad while I confirm tomorrow’s schedule. I’m going to watch the Samsung TV downstairs because we recorded the TONY Awards on CBS using the Verizon FiOS DVR last night when we were too busy shopping at IKEA to make it home in time for the show.) I am pleased with all of these brands because they deliver upon their promises, but none of them have managed to become a part of my life in  the way that Apple has managed to do.

Why? Mostly because the Apple stuff works so well (and if it doesn’t there’s the Genius Bar at the Apple stores, and Apple Care by phone). Nothing else I own has achieved that level of interoperability (to use a tech term). Taken individually as products or collectively as a complete system, it’s all elegant, reliable, and cool. And although my iMac tends to crash from time to time, and the iCal sync doesn’t work too tell on one of my devices, the whole thing is very, very impressive. Better, in fact, than just about anything else I own.


Secrets of Memory – Exposed!

I just received a piece of plastic, about the size of a postage stamp, containing as much memory as a MacBook Air: 64GB. And that made me wonder: is the 64GB on the Monster Digital SD XC USH-1 Class 10 Vault Series card (got all that?) the same as the  64GB of flash memory inside the Air?

Well, no, it’s not. Not according to Mike Ridling and Mark Morrissey, the President and Head of Storage Technology at Monster Digital.

We started at the beginning: spinning disks. Over the decades, the disks became smaller, and when Apple used the technology in the iPod, 1 in 3 units failed. So, Apple went shopping for a better solution.

At the time, flash drives had been around for about five years, and they were popular, but limited in terms of storage capacity. Camera manufacturers were experimenting with ways to store large number of images in a non-volatile format (that is, when the power goes off, the stored material remains). Then, Apple adopted flash memory for their portable devices–and the market shifted from spinning disks to non-volatile, highly portable, small-sized memory.

What’s inside that SD card? A tiny controller that routes data into and out of the card, and organizes the data on the card’s silicon chip so that it’s accessible and so that the card lasts as long as possible (but not forever).

About six years ago, the Secure Digital Association (SD = Secure Data) standardized the metrics for both memory capacity (64GB) and access speed (Class 10). In fact, the access speed matters–but the information is not always easy to find in your device’s instructions. If you own a big DSLR, buy Class 10 cards. Ditto for any camcorder that costs more than, say, $600-700. A Class 6 card is sufficient for a lesser camcorder or a more modest digital still camera. If you’re using the card in a smart phone or a low resolution camera (say, 2-3 megapixels), then a Class 2 is all you need. Of course, Class 10 cards cost more than Class 2 cards.

If you require higher transfer rates, you’ll want a UHS-1 compatible card, but note that not all of these cards are compatible with all devices. (Monster emphasized that their card works with a lot of different devices.)

Right now, the largest available SD cards are 128GB, but we’ll see 256GB in a year or so. Somehow, through the miracle of engineering, the cards are able to store more data but they don’t become larger (more data is stored within the available space). This means we can expect compatibility for a longer period of years.

Now what about the 64GB SD card in the 64GB MacBook Air? Can I simply double my storage capacity with the purchase of a $200 memory card? Well, sort of. The SATA3 solid state drive in the MacBook Air transfers data at 6GB per second. How does the SD card compare? Well, it’s slower. A lot slower: 80MB per second. This is why the SD card is better suited to, say, storing documents and transferring documents on the Air than, say, running Photoshop. In fact, the 64GB and it’s big sister, the 128GB are ideal for storing either almost 25,000 photographs, nearly 11 hours of HD video, over 1,000 hours of digital music. It’s ideal for use in an HD video camera, for example.

I did ask about whether technology was changing quickly enough to affect my thinking about the next generation Air (coming in May, we think). The answer came as something of a surprise: a new external drive for the Air (and other devices) that would plug into the new Thunderbolt port. Offering a transfer rate of about 10GB per second (1/6 of the internal drive, but a heck of a lot faster than the SD card), this is probably the next step in portable memory for portable computers.

And what about iPad storage? Yeah, it’s kinda messy. Apple really didn’t design iPads for external storage, so the solutions are workarounds. That probably won’t change in the future.

So, I’ve learned to use terms such as “transfer rate” and “Class 10” with some knowledge that I lacked yesterday. And, I’ve gotta say, I have a soft spot for Monster. So, thanks to the two executives who helped me to navigate this technology.

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