Weekly output: WWDC (x2), FlightCar, laptop shopping

This week’s worth of stories features a new client, which is a pleasant sort of feeling.

6/2/2014: Apple’s WWDC news, WTOP

I talked to the news station about Apple’s news from its developer conference and took a shot at the line that Apple is somehow stalling out in the market because it doesn’t use its public time for demos of products like self-driving cars that are years from shipping.

6/3/2014: How Apple Sees the Cloud: Not Like You Do, Yahoo Tech

You might have seen an earlier version of this post appear briefly on Yahoo’s site, courtesy of a miscommunication in editing. The version that showed up online later in the day benefited (I hope!) from another round or two of revision.

VentureBeat FlightCar review6/7/2014: Taking FlightCar for a SoCal spin: A smooth ride — mostly (review), VentureBeat

I rented somebody else’s Prius through FlightCar during a recent trip to southern California for a friend’s wedding. At the time, I thought that my using a “shared economy” service would at least qualify me to put the cost on my Schedule C as a research expense, but then I wound up selling a post on the experience to VentureBeat. They do good work there, and I’m glad they saw fit to publish mine.

On Sunday, FlightCar announced that if a renter had coverage denied by a credit-card issuer on the grounds that it’s not a standard rental-car agency, it would cover any damage expenses. The company also looked into my own rental and thinks that the phone-number mismatch I reported was due to a typo on my part. The e-mail confirmations that I received didn’t go into that level of detail, so if I did somehow mistype my area code I never would have known until showing up.

6/19: The travel-news site Skift reposted the story the day after it debuted, if you were yearning to read it in a different design.

6/8/2014: Buy or wait: When to pull the trigger on a new computer, USA Today

An old Post colleague e-mailed to ask what factors to consider when shopping for a new MacBook. That query led to this column, in which I note how the computer industry has progressed to the point that you don’t need to agonize so much over what kind of processor or how much storage is comes with.

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Weekly output: CNET and CBS, Internet Freedom Day, Tech Night Owl, Java, Yahoo Mail

For once, I did not come home from CES with a cold. Instead, I picked up one from our toddler a few days later.

CBS CNET post1/15/2013: CBS, CNET And How To Kill Tech Journalism Through Big-Media Denial, Disruptive Competition Project

This is a story I kind of missed during the show, but it also took me a day or two to realize how dangerous CBS’s rationales for interfering with CNET’s editorial decisions would be for tech journalism in the traditional (read: media conglomerate-owned) media. I was glad this little rant got as much attention as it did; I wish that had been followed by accountability for the twit or twits in CBS’s executive suite who thought this stunt would work.

1/18/2013: Internet Freedom Day’s Unfinished Business, Disruptive Competition Project

Friday marked the first anniversary of the Internet rearing up and kicking Big Copyright in the hindquarters during the battle to quash the Stop Online Piracy Act. That’s worth celebrating, but a week after the death of net-freedom advocate Aaron Swartz I also thought it necessary to point out all the items remaining on the tech-policy to-do list if you value a more open Internet and technology economy. I hope the results doesn’t make me sound like a total Eeyore.

1/19/2013: January 19, 2013 – Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl Live

I discussed the things I saw at CES, Apple’s stock price and other tech-news topics on Gene Steinberg’s podcast. I haven’t heard Kirk McElhearn‘s segment yet, but I’m sure that Macworld and TidBITS contributor had insightful things to say too.

1/20/2013: Q&A: Is Java safe to use?, USA Today

I returned to the topic I covered in my USAT column last spring, this time with more context about what Java was supposed to do and how it became the nuisance it is–plus a few remaining, non-Web uses for this software I hadn’t addressed in detail in that earlier piece. There’s also a tip about enabling a security feature Yahoo finally added to its Yahoo Mail service, some five years after Google had provided the same option to Gmail users.

I also held forth on the mini-blogging site Sulia, as my experiment with that site continues. Among this week’s posts: a review of Facebook’s new, airtime-free voice-calling service (and one of an Android app that does the same thing through Google Voice); documentation of some new Twitter features; a call for editors and publishers to post those newsroom-wide memos that always wind up getting published elsewhere.

How to react to Apple’s iCloud news: Remember that Apple isn’t Google

Apple did something ridiculous this morning: It outlined what it would announce at next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference. In a press release, it both quieted months of speculation by listing the products it plans to introduce at WWDC:

Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS® X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®; and iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.

Telling people what you’re going to talk about may be how most other tech companies operate, but not Apple. The Cupertino, Calif., company would rather play it coy–it asked journalists to witness the iPad’s unveiling on eight days’ notice in an e-mail vaguely headlined “Come see our latest creation.”

Knowing what Steve Jobs will show off during Monday’s keynote takes some of the drama out of the enterprise, but at the same time it also frees people to speculate even more about these particular products.

There’s the least mystery overall about Lion: Apple described its features last fall. The iOS 5 software for the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod touch shouldn’t involve too much guessing, since it ought to be obvious what Apple needs to fix: its notification system and its now-obsolete maps app, for starters. (Rumors also suggest that Apple will do the smart thing and offer some iOS equivalent of the widgets that let Android users tap into features of their applications from the home screens of their devices.)

But then there’s iCloud. Over the last few years–and especially since news emerged of the massive data center Apple has been building in North Carolina–this Web-based service has been seen as a 2.0 version of Apple’s $99-a-year MobileMe contacts/calendar/e-mail service, an overdue fix for data transfer between a Mac and an iPad, Apple’s response to the cloud-based music-streaming services of Amazon and others or, at its most ambitious, an ambitious suite of free and paid services that could finally give Apple an answer to Google’s array of Internet-hosted services and apps.

Any or all of those things could be true. But before you start daydreaming about the prospect of Apple taking on Google, remember that Apple isn’t Google.

I don’t mean that as an insult. Where Google often launches things in an unfinished state–as advertised with its usual “beta” label–Apple ships completed products. You usually don’t have to hope for the 1.1, 1.2 or 1.5 release that will bring the thing to fruition.

But at the same time, Apple products are less likely to improve over time than Google’s. There’s no better case for that than iCloud’s predecessor MobileMe: Although Apple tackled the reliability problems that made it unusable at its debut, it’s ignored numerous other opportunities to upgrade that service. Three years later, it has: no increase in its stingy 20 gigabytes of online storage; no mobile site to let you view your MobileMe data on a non-Apple phone; no Dropbox-elegant file synchronization; no sync tools to let you connect contacts or calendar apps besides Apple’s own Address Book and iCal and Microsoft’s Outlook; no options for third-party developers to write their own.

Apple’s other recent venture into Web services, the underwhelming iTunes Ping, has also quickly gone stale.

This represents a distinct contrast to the steady stream of iterative improvements you see in such Google Web apps as its mapping service and software–and in how Apple has built on each new advance in Mac OS X, its computers and its mobile devices. Apple’s inattention to MobileMe reminds me a lot more of how Yahoo has squandered the potential of its Flickr photo-sharing service.

I fully expect that, when spotlighted in a Steve Jobs keynote, iCloud will look great. It may even wow a lot of users when they can sign up from home. But unless there’s been a major change to Apple’s developmental DNA, that may be as good as iCloud will get for a long time.