Blog Archives

So you’ve created an app; now why hasn’t anyone discovered it? (Apple)

Posted by Ouriel Ohayon, Appsfire at Apple

You’ve gone through the Apple’s app review process and patiently waited (sometime very patiently) for a green light. Your new app is now live. You look at your server logs — no explosive growth. You look at your iTunes connect report the following day — no magical revenues. You scroll through the Apple App Store rankings — you’re not even there. You run a search in the App Store to make sure your app is indeed listed: yes, it’s there.

So you wait a week, two weeks … No gold rush for you. You’re app is not taking off. Why can’t all developers find their way and be successful? Why is success limited only limited to a few? You want to blame the Apple’s App Store for not having the right discovery mechanisms built for your app. But the reality is, this is not just Apple’s fault.

Most developers underestimate how hard it is to be successful in Apple’s App Store. And even if Apple is improving things, it’s not going to be enough. Ever since the App Store launched, I’ve been frustrated with app discovery. We all have our obsessions. I’m obsessed with finding great apps, which is why I cofounded Appsfire, a company focused on finding a solution.

But why is this problem so hard to solve? The answer is not straightforward. Let’s look at the various angles.

The developer side

It’s not enough to build a great app with a nice design and a nice user experience. A mobile app is a business, and it has to be managed like one.

If an app doesn’t solve a critical need in a beautiful way, it has little chance of survival in the long run.

The marketing plan, including knowing your own competition, has to be built and implemented before you even launch an app. Remember, apps are displayed in iTunes, which is a content store.

Apps need to be analyzed and optimized based on usage data and lifetime value. Many developers are still obsessed with low CPIs (cost per install) rather than trying to get the best users and keeping them engaged.

Launching an app is not just a design exercise backed with solid code. It’s a real business. Some of app studios have become so big (e.g. Zynga and Outfit7) that they don’t even need any sort of favor from Apple or Google to get massive visibility. They just self-promote their app.

The Apple App Store side

Apple announced 700,000 live iOS apps (close to one million have been created so far) and a newer app store. They also announced that 90% of all apps were downloaded every month. But everyone knows that only those apps in the top ranks or highlighted by Apple get any real traction.

So, is Apple doing enough for your new app?

Well, many developers forget that it is only a store. It’s not a marketing or advertising company.

Yes, Apple released a new version of its App Store. And just like any other online retailer, Apple does not let developers control the majority of the discovery process (even when they feature you).

What can Apple do to make life easier for developers?

A speedier review process would help developers iterate faster. A better interface for app management/analytics would be useful. Separate apps in the games category from non-games to give the other 20-plus categories a better chance. Those would all be nice upgrades but not dramatic changes.

What would be a dramatic change? Killing the top charts.

Rankings are the primary way consumers discover new apps. This is why so many app developers are trying different marketing techniques and bots (before bots were blacklisted by Apple) to get into the top ranks.

Killing the ranking system would force users to be more active in finding apps. And it would give more chances to more developers.

But it’s unlikely to happen.

The consumer side

Most smartphone users have more than 75 apps on their device. Only a few are regularly used. Most are forgotten and sometimes uninstalled. That’s the tough reality.

Consumers have a hard time finding good apps. But, paradoxically, they don’t care enough to read reviews, compare apps or even search for apps. On mobile people are lazy.

People need trusted sources to make quick decisions. This explains the growing popularity of third-party discovery solutions. They provide a good shortcut to decisions, just as shopping engines have done for e-commerce sites.

And trust in app discovery is probably the most important missing brick today. It is hard to build, communicate and maintain, because it requires a consistent effort of transparency, engineering, expertise, relevancy and independence

The App Store is not enough. It is built the same for everyone.

This explains why Facebook has developed the App Center. But that’s far from enough. You can’t trust your friends with every single decision they make. The solution is more about a specific taste graph for apps. And Facebook is not there.

The ad networks’ side

Millions of users find out about apps though advertising or paid discovery. (Something Apple does not include in its $5 billion paid to developers).

But the mobile ad industry is still young, and mobile advertising is not yet very consumer friendly or advertiser friendly. Banners are annoying, intrusive and inefficient. Many times they don’t even look like advertising.

An app developer can easily get lost, and understandably so, in the jungle of ad networks, each claiming billions of impressions per week, with different pricing structures, ad units, tracking technologies (when they work) and little commitment on results.

Paid app discovery is very hard and (to be successful) very expensive. It is not just not enough to buy advertising to succeed — thousands of developers do. It is complex, time consuming and expensive to run an efficient mobile ad campaign.

Bottom line

You can’t attribute the (lack of) success of an app just to one single factor. Building a business with a mobile app is hard, because it involves a long list of parameters very few developers really understand or can control.

We’re in the early days of the mobile app business. There is no “magic recipe” for mobile app success. It is more about experimentation than following a prescribed list of directions.

And everyone can learn how to cook this way. Those who make it will try and fail until they succeed. 

Ouriel Ohayon is the cofounder of Appsfire, a discovery and promotion network for mobile apps. Prior to Appsfire, he founded the French edition of Techcrunch and ran early stage investments for Lightspeed Ventures and Gemini Israel funds.

For more on this topic, attend GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, where Ouriel Ohayon will take part in an onstage conversation about how developers can disrupt the app distribution model. (September 20 – 21, San Francisco)

Image courtesy of Flickr user vikasiamoto.

Quick tip: Create a USB installer for Mountain Lion (Apple)

Posted by Geoffrey Goetz at Apple

Perhaps you have a fast broadband connection at home or work and downloading multiple copies of OS X Mountain Lion from the Mac App Store to update a few computers is not an issue.  But there are times when it’s more useful to have a means to install OS X from an external source.  The following is a quick guide to help you create a USB installer for Mountain Lion, very similar in fact to the OS X Lion USB Thumb Drive Apple use to sell with previous versions of OS X.

Step One - Extract the Drive Image

Step 1: Extract the drive image

After purchasing and downloading the OS X Mountain Lion update and before actually updating your Mac, navigate to your Applications folder in the Finder and right click on the file “Install Mac OS X Mountain Lion.app” and select “Show Package Contents.”  Look in the “Shared Support” folder located under the “Contents” folder of the “Install Mac OS X Mountain Lion.app,” and copy the file named “InstallESD.dmg” to your desktop.  This file is a bootable disk image of OS X with the Mountain Lion Installer already installed.  You will need this file in step three.

Step Two - Erase a USB Drive

Step 2: Erase a USB drive

Take a thumb drive that has at least a 8GB capacity, and connect it to your Mac. Launch the Disk Utility application located in your Application’s Utilities folder.  Once it is running you will see a list of the mounted drives connected to your Mac. Make sure there are no files you need on the drive, then select the USB drive, and click on the Erase tab to the right.  Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the Format, set the Name to “Mac OS X Installer” and click on the Erase button.

Step Three - Restore the Drive Image

Step 3: Restore the drive image

Now select the “Mac OS X Installer” you created in step two, and click on the Restore tab to the right.  You want to set the Source as the ”Mac OS X Installer ESD,” which is located within the “InstallESD.dmg” file you copied in step one.  Then set the Destination to be the “Mac OS X Installer” partition you created in step two.  You can drag and drop the items in the list on the left of the Disk Utility, into their appropriate Source and Destination settings on the right.  If you do not see the “InstallESD.dmg” file listed, use the Image button and locate it on your desktop.  Click on the Restore button once everything is set correctly.

And that’s it.  Once the process is complete, you will have your own backup installer for OS X Mountain Lion that you can use to install on your Mac, or restore it should something go terribly wrong.  When you boot your Mac, be sure that the USB thumb drive is inserted, and hold down the option-key when the Mac starts up.  You will be presented with a list of drives.  Simply select the “Mac OS X Installer” you just created on your USB drive and you will be ready to install OS X Mountain Lion on your Mac.

Apple wins preliminary injunction on U.S. sales of Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Apple)

Posted by Tom Krazit at Apple

Apple has won perhaps the most prominent victory in its multiyear battle over mobile patents: it has convinced a U.S. District Court judge to slap an injunction on sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets in the U.S. pending further review of the patent claims between the two companies.

Judge Lucy Koh issued the order late Tuesday. “In this case, although Samsung will necessarily be harmed by being forced to withdraw its product from the market before the merits can be determined after a full trial, the harm faced by Apple absent an injunction on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is greater,” Koh wrote in her ruling.

For years now, Apple and Samsung have been locked in a dispute over whether or not Samsung’s Android smartphones and tablets infringe on patents held by Apple for the iPhone and the iPad, the product being discussed in Koh’s ruling. It had seemed of late that the parties might find some accommodation in the wake of the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who swore to “destroy” Android, and more conciliatory comments about patent litigation in general by current Apple CEO Tim Cook.

But the injunction is a huge victory for Apple, even though Samsung hasn’t sold very many Galaxy Tab 10.1 units in the U.S. The ruling comes a week after Apple faced a setback in Chicago in its dispute with Motorola, now owned by Android creator Google.

Judge Koh’s order is embedded below.

Apple wins injunction on Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Judge Koh

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How many Apple IDs should your family have? (Apple)

Posted by Geoffrey Goetz at Apple

If your family owns multiple Apple devices and you have several different Apple IDs among you, it can become overwhelming or confusing or just plain maddening to figure out where your content is. It doesn’t have to be that way: To manage your media and app purchases more effectively, you may want to consider having a single family iTunes account.

What you would do is take one of your Apple IDs — the single username to manage all your Apple accounts — associate it with a single iTunes account and a credit card, and assign it to all of your iOS devices.  From here on out, you can continue to make all of your family’s purchases for all of their devices from that one iTunes account.

However, there’s one exception: iCloud. It may seem like you would want a separate iCloud account for each device because each iCloud account comes with a mere 5 GB of free storage.  This hardly seems enough to back up even one 64 GB iPhone 4S or iPad.  Each member of your family may own multiple Apple devices and want to have all of their data equally accessible from each device. But having a separate account for each device does not make much sense either.

So what can an Apple ID do?

Some of the confusion over how to handle multiple Apple IDs comes from not knowing exactly what is possible.  For instance, every Apple ID is not automatically enrolled with all of Apple’s services.  You can create your AppleID and enroll it in each Apple service individually as you need to.  You do this by logging into that service with your Apple ID.  Additionally, each device can utilize multiple Apple IDs at the same time.  Some of Apple’s services can be configured once per device, others multiple times per device.  For example, each device can only be backed up to one iCloud account whereas each device can have multiple iCloud email accounts configured.

It can be hard to figure out how to do this. Some Apple IDs are set in the device settings, other are set separately per an individual app setting.  The chart below illustrates how many Apple IDs you can have associated with each device, and where the ID associated with that service is configured:

AppleID Settings Options

We’ve narrowed down your options and here are some suggestions for best organizing your family’s devices and Apple accounts:

One iTunes Apple ID for apps and media

Using the chart above as a sort of Apple ID map, you can plan which services you want to use, and just how you want to configure them on each family member’s device.  To start, take one Apple ID and associate it with an iTunes account for all of the app and media purchases your family makes. This is the account that is linked to a credit card.  With each Apple device, the purchased apps, music, books, magazines, TV Shows and movies account will be accessible by all of the devices registered with this account.

iTunes Store Account

Keep in mind that the rules are changing.  Whe the iPad first came out, it used to be that you could authorize up to five OS X computers with the same iTunes account.  And in turn each OS X computer could sync its locally stored library of purchased apps and media (via a USB cable) to an unlimited number of  iOS devices.  With Apple moving away from physical access, cable-based direct syncing and online music storage in the cloud through add on services like iTunes Match, the opportunity exists for more than a household of devices being configured to access a single iTunes account’s media files.

This now means that a single account that access its music via the cloud can only have up to 10 devices and computers combined.  Ten sounds like a lot for an individual, but not a family. Think of a family of four having a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad each.  That’s 12 computers and devices, not including any Apple TVs and additional iPods scattered throughout the house.

One primary iCloud Apple ID on each device

The Apple ID that you use to create your iTunes account does not need to have an iCloud account associated with it.  In fact you do not need an iCloud account in order to use your iOS or OS X device.  But to take full advantage of all of the iCloud based features of iOS 5 listed in the above chart, you will need an iCloud account.  For some of these features there can be only one iCloud setting per device.

iCloud Primary Settings

When configuring your family’s Apple devices, these settings are part of each device’s primary iCloud account.  While each device can have multiple iCloud accounts associated with it, only one of these iCloud accounts can enable a select set of features.  These features include Bookmarks, Photo Stream, Documents & Data and Storage & Backup.

Unfortunately, since these features are configured only via the iCloud settings on the device, they must all be associated with the same iCloud account.  This fact is really disappointing since it would be nice to configure all of your family’s devices on one iCloud account for iCloud Backup, and a separate one for app-based Documents & Data.  This would allow a user to have to pay once for additional storage on that one shared family-sized backup iCloud account.

One Apple ID to keep track of all of your family’s devices

With your family’s iTunes purchases under control, and the core features of iCloud storage taken care of, there is one particular feature of iOS 5 that can be set separately from a device’s primary iCloud account.  When it comes to locating each of your family’s devices, do not rely solely on the Find My Friends app to locate their position.  Create a common family iCloud account and configure each device to use this account in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars settings.  In fact, you can even create this iCloud account without creating a new Apple email address.  This family iCloud account’s sole purpose will be to keep track of all of your Apple devices.

Find My iPhone

Configuring each device in such a manner does not interfere with the use of a different app, Find My Friends. You only need to have one account on the device enable the Find my iPhone service.  Then the Find My Friends app will use that enabled service to share your location with whatever account is used to log on with the app.  That means each family member can still individually manage who knows their whereabouts via the Find My Friends app.

Multiple secondary iCloud Apple IDs on each device

Most of the iOS features that require an iCloud account have been taken care of, except the ones that really matter most.  At this point you can decide if you want a me.com email address or not.  Each family member can create their own account (or accounts) for Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Reminders, and Notes.

iCloud Secondary Settings

When it comes to mail, not every third-party service out there supports all of these features.  Hotmail, for instance, will support Reminders, but not Notes.  Some Microsoft Exchange Servers will support Reminders, some Notes and some both Reminders and Notes.  If you happen to configure your Google Mail as an Exchange service, you will not get Reminders or Notes.  Yahoo on the other hand actually supports them all and AOL, well, just Notes.  So be sure to pick a mail provider that will support all of the services you need.

Several independent Apple IDs for everything else

So what’s left?  Quite a bit actually.  FaceTime, GameCenter, Messaging, HomeSharing and even the Apple Store app.  The default account used by each of these independent apps is the Apple ID configured to be used with the iTunes account on a particular device.  But you can use any Apple ID you like.

Independent Apps

These apps support features that are independent from both the iTunes account as well as the iCloud account that are configured on the device.  They are managed separately, configured in separate settings and even stored in separate apps.  You can sign out of each of these particular features and sign back in using a different Apple ID.  And this will have no effect on the aforementioned iTunes and iCloud account settings on the device.

A good strategy

The idea here is that you can use multiple Apple IDs on each device, and at the same time each Apple ID does not need to be enrolled in every Apple product, feature and service.  Decide what products and services you want to use first and determine how each device will be used.  If you don’t, before you know it you could end up with a real rats nest of accounts.

Do consider using one master family account on all devices to manage iTunes purchases, and use that same shared account to track the location of all of your devices.  As an added bonus, you could use the calendar, contacts and reminders with this shared family iCloud account as well.  Once you have each device configured with these basics, let each family member decide which third-party email service they want.  This may well be the best strategy to employ, until Apple sees fit to enable multiple users per device.

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What you need to know about the new iPad (Apple)

Posted by Erica Ogg at Apple

So you have a new iPad. This could be your first Apple tablet, or you could be upgrading to the new device with high-resolution display, fast graphics, better cameras and the option of 4G networking. Or maybe you’re still on the fence?

Since Apple introduced the new device a week and a half ago, we’ve been trying to answer your questions about which device to buy, whether you should upgrade and, once you have it in your hands, what to do from there. Which apps should you get? Which ones will look the best? Which data plan should you pick? Here’s what you need to know.

Details, details

Here’s a scientific explanation of what makes the new so-called Retina display so very bright and unpixelated.

Sure, you might feel silly taking video with an iPad. But Kevin Tofel thinks you might feel differently now that the new iPad has better cameras and useful photo-editing software. Here’s his analysis of the new cameras.

Making decisions

One-stop shop for the most insightful reviews of the new iPad: here’s Om’s meta review of the reviews.

iPad versus iPad: Now that Apple is bringing 4G to the iPad, which carrier should you go with? Kevin Fitchard compares the services and options from both AT&T and Verizon.

Now that you have your iPad

What if you already have a 3G wireless contract? We walk you through the steps to upgrading your 3G data plan to a 4G data plan.

With that 2048 × 1536 display resolution and 264 pixels per inch, the iPad’s most noticeable new feature is the Retina display. Here’s a roundup of the apps available in the iTunes App Store now that have been optimized for the new high-resolution display.

iPhoto, Apple’s photo-editing software for the Mac, is for the first time on the iPad. It’s been reworked for touch-based editing photos and creating Photo Journals pictures, maps, weather and calendar widgets — here are the details.

As our own iPads get delivered, we’ll have more coverage over the weekend and into next week, so stay tuned.

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App beta testing gets better with new TestFlight SDK

Developers looking to beta test their apps before getting them into the App Store have a number of options for finding and communicating with beta testers, but few are as slick and easy to use as TestFlight. Now the provisioning tool gets even better, thanks to a number of updates in version two, which made its official debut on Monday.

The new version of TestFlight comes with an SDK that allows developers to make their beta testing process a lot more involved, and it provides improved tools for gathering feedback. Feedback and communication are key to a successful beta test (which is why I’m not a great tester myself), and the new features available to developers through TestFlight’s API are all about improving information flow between devs and testers.

Highlights of what developers can look forward to include:

  • In-App Questions. Trigger questions at specific checkpoints to get feedback from users as they’re using the software exactly at points where you think there might be an issue.
  • In-App Updates. Make sure your test group is on the same page with in-app update prompts, which also allow you to update to the latest version instantly over the air.
  • Feedback. In-app forms and tester email responses all feed into the developer dashboard and allow for instant replies between tester and coder.

There’s more, too, so be sure to head over to the official TestFlight website and check it out if you’re interested. Developers and testers alike can still sign up for free, too, and all of these new features arrive as free updates for existing and new users alike. Inevitably, TestFlight will have to bring some tiered paid options or advertising to the table to keep things going, but judging by developer response and its adoption by big brands so far, it won’t have too much trouble getting people to pay for the product when it does.

As for general consumers, even if you never actually use or see TestFlight in action, you’ll probably feel its effects: A better beta process with more communication options built in should lead to better shipping products popping up in the App Store.

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App beta testing gets better with new TestFlight SDK

Developers looking to beta test their apps before getting them into the App Store have a number of options for finding and communicating with beta testers, but few are as slick and easy to use as TestFlight. Now the provisioning tool gets even better, thanks to a number of updates in version two, which made its official debut on Monday.

The new version of TestFlight comes with an SDK that allows developers to make their beta testing process a lot more involved, and it provides improved tools for gathering feedback. Feedback and communication are key to a successful beta test (which is why I’m not a great tester myself), and the new features available to developers through TestFlight’s API are all about improving information flow between devs and testers.

Highlights of what developers can look forward to include:

  • In-App Questions. Trigger questions at specific checkpoints to get feedback from users as they’re using the software exactly at points where you think there might be an issue.
  • In-App Updates. Make sure your test group is on the same page with in-app update prompts, which also allow you to update to the latest version instantly over the air.
  • Feedback. In-app forms and tester email responses all feed into the developer dashboard and allow for instant replies between tester and coder.

There’s more, too, so be sure to head over to the official TestFlight website and check it out if you’re interested. Developers and testers alike can still sign up for free, too, and all of these new features arrive as free updates for existing and new users alike. Inevitably, TestFlight will have to bring some tiered paid options or advertising to the table to keep things going, but judging by developer response and its adoption by big brands so far, it won’t have too much trouble getting people to pay for the product when it does.

As for general consumers, even if you never actually use or see TestFlight in action, you’ll probably feel its effects: A better beta process with more communication options built in should lead to better shipping products popping up in the App Store.

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7 Lion annoyances and how to fix them

With every OS upgrade, there’s always some new annoyances that pop up, and since Lion is such a big update to OS X, it stands to reason that it has more annoyances than usual. Here’s how to remedy seven of them.

Enable three-finger swipe for back/forward

In Snow Leopard, swiping three fingers on the trackpad moved you back or forward in Safari and the Finder. In Lion, however, that gesture has been changed to two fingers, with the three finger gesture reserved for Mission Control. In effect, any apps that used this gesture for back/forward are broken and need to be updated to use the new gesture. Until then, you can get the old gesture back by going to Trackpad in System Preferences, and under the “More Gestures” tab changing the option for “Swipe between pages” to “Swipe left or right with two or three fingers”. If you do this, you’ll have to switch between full-screen apps with four fingers.

Enable tap dragging and disable inertial scrolling

Apple moved these preferences to the Universal Access pane in System Preferences. To tweak them, enter the Universal Access area, go to the “Mouse and Trackpad” tab and click “Trackpad Options.”

Turn off automatic file locking

Due to the addition of Auto Save, Lion automatically locks files after two weeks if they haven’t been edited. You can change this by going into System Preferences > Time Machine > Options and unchecking the option to lock files.

Take Dashboard out of Mission Control

With Lion, Dashboard is now a space in Mission Control. If you don’t want it taking up the room, or if you want Dashboard to act as an overlay, the way it did in Snow Leopard, you can go to Mission Control’s System Preferences pane and uncheck the box next to “Show Dashboard as a space.”

Show the Finder’s status bar and hide All My Files

The Lion Finder has a couple of annoying changes. First, the status bar is hidden, so you can’t see the extra information it provided, such as how much space is left on a volume. You can show it again by going to View in the Menu bar and clicking “Show Status Bar.”

Second, the Finder has a new sidebar item called “All My Files.” Basically, this is a smart folder that shows a full list of every kind of file on your system. While this may be useful for people who don’t have a lot of files, for me, it’s pretty worthless, as I have to scroll for ages to find anything. You can get rid of it by simply holding down the Command (?) key and dragging it out of the sidebar.

What other annoyances have you found in Lion? Tell us in the comments.

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7 Lion annoyances and how to fix them

With every OS upgrade, there’s always some new annoyances that pop up, and since Lion is such a big update to OS X, it stands to reason that it has more annoyances than usual. Here’s how to remedy seven of them.

Enable three-finger swipe for back/forward

In Snow Leopard, swiping three fingers on the trackpad moved you back or forward in Safari and the Finder. In Lion, however, that gesture has been changed to two fingers, with the three finger gesture reserved for Mission Control. In effect, any apps that used this gesture for back/forward are broken and need to be updated to use the new gesture. Until then, you can get the old gesture back by going to Trackpad in System Preferences, and under the “More Gestures” tab changing the option for “Swipe between pages” to “Swipe left or right with two or three fingers”. If you do this, you’ll have to switch between full-screen apps with four fingers.

Enable tap dragging and disable inertial scrolling

Apple moved these preferences to the Universal Access pane in System Preferences. To tweak them, enter the Universal Access area, go to the “Mouse and Trackpad” tab and click “Trackpad Options.”

Turn off automatic file locking

Due to the addition of Auto Save, Lion automatically locks files after two weeks if they haven’t been edited. You can change this by going into System Preferences > Time Machine > Options and unchecking the option to lock files.

Take Dashboard out of Mission Control

With Lion, Dashboard is now a space in Mission Control. If you don’t want it taking up the room, or if you want Dashboard to act as an overlay, the way it did in Snow Leopard, you can go to Mission Control’s System Preferences pane and uncheck the box next to “Show Dashboard as a space.”

Show the Finder’s status bar and hide All My Files

The Lion Finder has a couple of annoying changes. First, the status bar is hidden, so you can’t see the extra information it provided, such as how much space is left on a volume. You can show it again by going to View in the Menu bar and clicking “Show Status Bar.”

Second, the Finder has a new sidebar item called “All My Files.” Basically, this is a smart folder that shows a full list of every kind of file on your system. While this may be useful for people who don’t have a lot of files, for me, it’s pretty worthless, as I have to scroll for ages to find anything. You can get rid of it by simply holding down the Command (?) key and dragging it out of the sidebar.

What other annoyances have you found in Lion? Tell us in the comments.

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How and when to reset your Mac’s PRAM and SMC

There are times when your Mac will just start misbehaving. Video settings getting reset, fans start running at full speed, keyboard lights don’t come on when they should.  This is most likely to happen following a hardware upgrade, extended power outage or even a major software upgrade (like Lion). In those cases, sometimes you need to reset your Mac’s parameter random access memory (PRAM) or system management controller (SMC) to get things running smoothly again.

Try this first

There are some good best practices to perform before running off and resetting your Mac at the first sign of strange behavior. This isn’t a step-by-step list; try each and all of the below separately when you’re having trouble:

  • Quit (Command+Q) or even Force Quit (Command+Option+Esc) any and all running applications.
  • Log off and then log back on to any and all logged on user accounts.
  • Put the Mac to sleep and wake it up again.
  • Restart the Mac.
  • Shut down and unplug the Mac (and remove any battery if you have access) for at least thirty seconds before powering back on.

You may even have to press and hold the power button several seconds in extreme cases when your Mac is truly not responding or refuses to shut down and power off. But if you have tried all of this to no avail, then perhaps you do need to either reset your PRAM or your SMC.

Parameter random access memory

PRAM is used by OS X to store certain information that the system can access quickly. Macs will store settings like which startup drive to boot from, various display and video settings, startup speaker volume and even the DVD’s region settings. If you feel that you need to reset your Mac’s PRAM because of the issues you’re having, do the following:

  1. Turn off your Mac. Don’t worry about disconnecting the power or removing the battery.
  2. Turn on your Mac and hold down the Command, Option, P, and R keys all at the same time (all four keys).
  3. Keep holding down all four keys until you hear the startup sound for a second time.

If you do not hear the startup sound twice, then you most likely have not reset the PRAM.  If you find that your Mac is not retaining the information that is stored in PRAM when you perform a shutdown, then it might be time to replace your Mac’s main logic board battery.  This is sometimes referred to as the PRAM or Clock Battery. I hardly ever fully shut down and power off any of my Macs, and have yet to replace this battery on any Mac I have owned, so that should only be the culprit in very extreme cases.

System management controller

The SMC is an Intel-only feature.  There are so many symptoms that can potentially be solved by resetting the SMC that you’d think you would need to do this sort of reset all of the time. These include fans running out of control, lights not displaying correctly, the Mac does not sleep or wake properly, and just generally poor performance and high CPU cycles for no good reason. There are three ways to reset your SMC, based on what sort of Intel-based Mac you have:
Portable Macs with removable batteries

  1. Shut down the Mac, unplug and remove the battery.
  2. Press and hold the power button for five seconds before releasing.
  3. Replace the battery (just put it back in), plug in the Mac and turn it back on.

Portable Macs without removable batteries

  • Shut down the Mac.
  • Ensure that the Mac is plugged into a power source.
  • While the Mac is turned off, press and hold the Shift, Control and Option keys, as well as the Power button.
  • Release all four keys at the same time (note: the Mac should not power on when performing this task).
  • Press the power button to turn the Mac back on.

Desktop Mac Pros, iMacs and Mac minis

  • Shut down and unplug the Mac.
  • Keep the Mac unplugged for at least fifteen seconds.
  • Plug the Mac back in and do not turn it back on for at least five seconds.
  • Press the power button to turn the Mac back on.

This shouldn’t be considered a routine operation, like fixing file permissions in Disk Utility. It’s just something to keep in mind as a possible last resort solution to weird behaviors that your Mac starts to develop, which can often happen when you perform upgrades like installing OS X Lion, especially on older hardware.

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