Apple stops selling the 12-inch MacBook, a computer you either loved or were confused by

Apple officially stopped selling the 12-inch MacBook today, a computer that hasn’t had an update since June 2017 and that is also maybe one of the most contentious Macs in Apple’s lineup. The 12-inch MacBook at one time seemed like Apple’s path forward (plenty of Apple fans and analysts saw it as a sign of things to come when it launched in 2015), but ultimately ended up representing some of Apple’s biggest challenges with its Macs in general.

The biggest indicator that Apple felt the MacBook was a showcase and crucial product was the name – it was just THE MacBook, without any addition epithets or qualifiers like “Air” or “Pro” (both of which predated its existence. And when it debuted, it brought a number of firsts for Apple’s laptop lineup, including USB-C for both data and power, a keyboard with butterfly mechanisms, a Force Touch trackpad and a new way of “terracing” batteries that allowed Apple to maximize the power available to the diminutive notebook without making any compromises on size.

For sheer portability and screen-to-size ratio, the MacBook was an absolute feat. But this computer was one of Apple’s boldest statements yet when it came to a separation from current standards and opinions about what users did and didn’t need in a laptop. It only came with a single USB-C port (‘just one!’ people gasped, and that’s for power, too!); the butterfly keyboard was strange and different. This last thing would later prove possibly Apple’s biggest technical gaffe in terms of fundamental component design, which has impact even today in that the company released brand new computers using butterfly keyboards and immediately added them to an extended keyboard replacement program.

The MacBook also always lagged significantly behind its Pro and Air companions in terms of processor power, thanks to the energy-sipping Intel chips required in its construction to minimize heat. As a former MacBook owner myself, it was enough that you noticed the chug when you were doing stuff that wasn’t necessarily heavy-duty, and painfully apparent if you used the little notebook simultaneously with a home desktop, for instance.

But the MacBook was also excellent in its own way. It was so portable as to be almost forgotten as an addition to a bag. It was maybe the ultimate pure writing notebook, because that’s not something that ever felt the lack of processor power under the hood. And as often maligned as it was for being a single-port machine (besides the headphone jack, which is now a luxury in the smartphone world), there was a certain amount of focus necessitated by this monk-like approach to I/O.

Ultimately, the MacBook resembles the original MacBook Air more than anything – an oddball that had both lovers and haters, but that didn’t meet the needs or expectations of the masses. Like the Air, the MacBook could rise from the ashes with a future incarnation, too – perhaps one made possible by the much-speculated future Apple transition to ARM processor architecture. Or maybe it’ll just make way for an ever-evolving iPad powered by the more sophisticated iPadOS coming this fall.

Regardless, the MacBook was an eccentric machine that I enjoyed using (and was potentially considering using again pending an update), so here’s hoping it’s not gone forever.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Amazon stops selling stick-on Dash buttons

Amazon has confirmed it’s retired physical stick-on Dash buttons from sale — in favor of virtual alternatives that let Prime Members tap a digital button to reorder a staple product.

It also points to its Dash Replenishment service — which offers an API for device makers wanting to build Internet connected appliances that can automatically reorder the products they need to function — be it cat food, batteries or washing power — as another reason why physical Dash buttons, which launched back in 2015 (costing $ 5 a pop), are past their sell by date.

Amazon says “hundreds” of IoT devices capable of self-ordering on Amazon have been launched globally to date by brands including Beko, Epson, illy, Samsung and Whirlpool, to name a few.

So why press a physical button when a digital one will do? Or, indeed, why not do away with the need to push a button all and just let your gadgets rack up your grocery bill all by themselves while you get on with the importance business of consuming all the stuff they’re ordering?

You can see where Amazon wants to get to with its “so customers don’t have to think at all about restocking” line. Consumption that entirely removes the consumer’s decision making process from the transactional loop is quite the capitalist wet dream. Though the company does need to be careful about consumer protection rules as it seeks to remove all friction from the buying process.

The ecommerce behemoth also claims customers are “increasingly” using its Alexa voice assistant to reorder staples, such as via the Alexa Shopping voice shopping app (Amazon calls it ‘hands free shopping’) that lets people inform the machine about a purchase intent and it will suggest items to buy based on their Amazon order history.

Albeit, it offers no actual usage metrics for Alexa Shopping. So that’s meaningless PR.

A less flashy but perhaps more popular option than ‘hands free shopping’, which Amazon also says has contributed to making physical Dash buttons redundant, is its Subscribe & Save program.

This “lets customers automatically receive their favourite items every month”, as Amazon puts it. It offers an added incentive of discounts that kick in if the user signs up to buy five or more products per month. But the mainstay of the sales pitch is convenience with Amazon touting time saved by subscribing to ‘essentials’ — and time saved from compiling boring shopping lists once again means more time to consume the stuff being bought on Amazon…

In a statement about retiring physical Dash buttons from global sale on February 28, Amazon also confirmed it will continue to support existing Dash owners — presumably until their buttons wear down to the bare circuit board from repeat use.

“Existing Dash Button customers can continue to use their Dash Button devices,” it writes. “We look forward to continuing support for our customers’ shopping needs, including growing our Dash Replenishment product line-up and expanding availability of virtual Dash Buttons.”

So farewell then clunky Dash buttons. Another physical push-button bites the dust. Though plastic-y Dash were quite unlike the classic iPhone home button — always seeming temporary and experimental rather than slick and coolly reassuring. Even so, the end of both buttons points to the need for tech businesses to tool up for the next wave of contextually savvy connected devices. More smarts, and more controllable smarts is key.

Amazon’s statement about ‘shifting focus’ for Dash does not mention potential legal risks around the buttons related to consumer rights challenges — but that’s another angle here.

In January a court in Germany ruled Dash buttons breached local ecommerce rules, following a challenge by a regional consumer watchdog that raised concerns about T&Cs which allow Amazon to substitute a product of a higher price or even a different product entirely than what the consumer had originally selected. The watchdog argued consumers should be provided with more information about price and product before taking the order — and the judges agreed. Though Amazon said it would seek to appeal.

While it’s not clear whether or not that legal challenge contributed to Amazon’s decision to shutter Dash, it’s clear that virtual Dash buttons offer more opportunities for displaying additional information prior to a purchase than a screen-less physical Dash button. So are more easily adapted to meet any tightening legal requirements across different markets.

The demise of the physical Dash was reported earlier by CNET.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple stops paying royalties to Qualcomm

 It’s no secret, Apple and Qualcomm have been fighting relentlessly for a few months over royalty payments. Apple told Qualcomm that it would stop paying the disputed licensing fees. Qualcomm confirmed the aggressive move and said that its revenue and profits would be lower than expected. Apple said that it is waiting for a court decision to resume payments. Of course, the company expects… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Dell stops sale, upgrades of Android tablets

dell Dell will no longer sell or upgrade its Android tablet line and will instead focus on Windows devices. The news broke last week but I suspect the holiday – and the collective yawn that was the Dell Venue line – put a damper on its spread.
The company will instead focus on 2-in-1 Windows machines, the laptop/slate hybrids that take advantage of Windows’ touchscreen capabilities. Read More
Android – TechCrunch

When innovating stops making sense

shutterstock_280436669 If you listened carefully to business news last week you could hear the sound of a giant tree falling in a quiet forest. It happened when Rovi bought TiVo for $ 1.1 billion. It was a merger of convenience, a way for TiVo to get out of its slump and die a gracefully without much shareholder pain. The buyer, Rovi, is a meta-data provider to set-top boxes while TiVo was the original set-top box,… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch