MacInTouch and me

I don’t know why but Ric Ford’s MacInTouch site has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to trust, a sign that something is about to disappear for good…like a distant old relative. I stopped reading MacInTouch regularly sometime in 2003 when Ric Ford changed the format from a daily web post incarnation of the old Ford/LePage MacInTouch column that ran in the MacWeek print edition (and disappeared shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple), to an edited format of the MacInTouch Discussions forum. At the time I found the new generation of Apple bloggers like John Gruber’s Daring Fireball to be more informative and fun, though DF has morphed into a decidedly not fun grumpy web presence that wanders off into politics way too much for a tech blog.

At its best MacInTouch was invaluable for keeping the Mac faithful together and warm in the dark cold late Scully~Spindler~Amelio Apple death spiral days. It was like hanging out with other Mac users at a local computer store along with the proprietor. There was actually a place like that for me in Shizuoka, Yaizu actually, a little shop by the harbor called Data Planet that only sold Apple hardware. All the local Mac users would go there after work and hang out to chat, trade information and try out the latest software. A happy time. But there was something more in MacInTouch, there was a strong sense of helping other users with timely, detailed, smartly edited information that I just don’t see anymore in this age of opinion blogs and tech news sites.

I used to write for MacInTouch occasionally as a ‘contributing editor’ covering the MacWorld Tokyo conferences when Steve Jobs still gave keynotes (the last one being 2002) along with contributing editor Henry Norr before he moved on to the San Fransisco Chronicle and was famously fired for joining a demonstration opposing George W. Bush’s Invasion of Iraq. How times change n’est pas? MacInTouch had a run-in with Steve Jobs not long after his return when Apple PR closed down access on a story I was working on.

If you write for Macintouch I think any interview with Harada san <then president of Apple Japan> would not be appropriate. This is a rumor site that prints unsubstantiated stories about Apple.

MacInTouch #1
Thanks…I’m trying to hash it out now with Jobs, but I don’t know if I’ll get anywhere. (He admitted a kind of blacklisting in a subsequent message, and we’re now debating that.)

MacInTouch #2
I had an extended email exchange with Jobs, and he finally admitted the blacklisting after several weasel messages…it really pissed me off, but it’s in keeping with his reputation.

All of those old posts are long gone and inaccessible but here’s the last thing I wrote for MacInTouch:

MacWorld Tokyo 2002

What a difference a month makes. This was the first springtime MacWorld Tokyo ever and instead of the cold ripping winds of Makuhari, there were warmer whipping winds and cherry trees in bloom for expo goers who took time to find them.

Steve Jobs had no big new products to show off and this was his least exciting Tokyo keynote so far. Even so he put his best foot forward and pulled off a decent show-must-go-on performance. First off he listed all the topics for the day, MacOS X, Digital Hub, iMac, Bluetooth, Cinema Display and iPod with the first 2 topics closely following his San Francisco MacWorld keynote script with a few tweaks for the Japanese audience.

MacOS X, which Jobs said is ‘just about done’ headlined new X Japanese versions of Adobe’s InDesign and the forthcoming Photoshop 7 but as the Adobe Japan executive doing the demo said ‘we won’t be showing it on the floor’. Next up was the Japanese developer ErgoSoft who have had a bit of a renaissance of late with their X version of ‘EG Word’, a word processor, and ‘EG Bridge’ a ‘front end processor’ for inputting Japanese text.

Back in the KanjiTalk System 6 days EG Word and EG Bridge were king of the Mac Japanese word processing market. But after System 7 and localized versions of Microsoft Word hit the market Ergo lost its way and most of their market share. Right now they seem to be the only local developer taking advantage of the advanced OpenType/ATSUI MacOS X Japanese character sets announced by Jobs 2 years ago. Ergo president Yoichi Erikawa showed how easy it was to input and choose 24 different character combinations for the name ‘Watanabe’. He also showed how easy it is to import the extended character sets into InDesign and not have it change to garbage text. He paused for a moment and said to the audience ‘you can’t do this with Windows:..only with MacOS X.’ which got more applause than Adobe.

FileMaker president Dominique Goupil showed off another Mac warhorse with the recently released FileMaker Mobile for iMode cell phones, a very popular home grown item. FileMaker is flexible as ever and he showed how easy it is to add fields to a layout even with iMode users connected. This is a product aimed squarely at the Japanese cell phone market and has many exciting possibilities.

Apple’s Mike Evangelist then showed off Final Cut Pro 3.0 exactly as he did at San Francisco, and finally a LucasFilm executive showed how Maya was used for storyboarding the next Star Wars episode. He also showed a sneak preview clip which got applause but I remember how in the first Star Wars George Lucas used to do more with less. Now with digital effect overkill, he seems to use everything and ends up with nothing. Ho-hum, I’ll wait for the video.

The Digital Hub section outlining iMovie, iTunes, iDVD was an exact re-run of the previous keynote and Jobs ran them all through their paces. With the iMac, Jobs had some ‘good news and some bad news’. For the good news he went out of his way to quell rumors that Apple stores were more important than resellers, saying that Apple had shipped 125,000 new iMacs of which ‘less than 10%’ went to Apple Stores. Also he said that Apple was making 5,000 iMacs a day. ‘So we hope to catch up with demand by April’.

And the bad news? Component costs, memory and LCD displays, have risen 25% on average leaving computer manufactures with 2 choices: keep prices and lose features or keep features and raise prices. Jobs choose the latter raising iMac prices $100 across the board effective today, but he pledged to honor previous prices on all previously booked orders.

In the Bluetooth segment Jobs presented a wire/wireless connectivity model: for network connections we have Ethernet vs. AirPort, for peripherals we have FireWire and USB vs. Bluetooth. Bluetooth for the rest of us will be built into the next version of MacOS X with a beta download available shortly, you can purchase the D-Link DWB-120M USB Bluetooth Adapter from the Apple store as of today. On stage Jobs used the USB Bluetooth adapter to sync his Palm desktop and if you are a Palm user this is a real boon, all you have to do is point and click the Sync button. He also showed wireless modem setup with a cell phone.

The new Cinema Display HD was up next. At 23 inches, 1920×1200 pixels and 3,499 USD, the new display is not for the faint of heart but after seeing it at the Apple booth, it will take your breath away.

And last but not least, Jobs announced a 10GB version of iPod for $499. ‘How long is 2,000 tunes?’ Jobs asked. ‘Enough to last 6 trips between Tokyo and San Francisco’. In addition to the new configuration, the Apple Store now offers custom laser engraving on the back of your iPod ‘for only $49’ and a new iPod firmware update that adds a new ‘Contacts’ menu item. Contacts uses the vCard standard which means you should be able to download data from Palm and Entourage and can store up to 1000 contacts. It all looks convenient enough but I wonder if the next step is a keypad instead of the wheel and ‘iPhone’ instead of ‘iPod’.

If there is any shortage of new iMacs in the retail channel it wasn’t evident on the expo floor. They were everywhere in the Apple booth and beyond. The floor didn’t seem as large as the previous venue in Makuhari, but the layout was good with a healthy mix of big guns, special solutions and game vendors. I’ll have more on that with part 2 tomorrow.

Badly dated of course but looking back it’s easy to see how quickly things were changing: the old MacWorld Expo business model was dying. The iPod success allowed Apple to rebuild itself and the future. Apple PR sealed off media access to a few select superstar personalities. The cozy old Mac user group model of hanging out at the local family owned computer shop gave way to big sleek Apple Stores with Genius Bars.

I doubt many people remember when MacInTouch was important or what it meant back in the day when personal computers were really personal. For that reason I will be sad when it finally passes on to the great dark memory hole of the internet. It was a good run…thanks for the memories Ric.