THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
When is a hiatus not a hiatus? Well, one example is when IDG decided not to hold a Macworld / iWorld conference for 2015. But rather than state up front that this event will no longer happen, they chose to fudge a response and claim that it's on "hiatus" for now, and that they will reevaluate it at a later time.
It's certainly true that, with the rise of the online world, hundreds of Apple Store branches, and Apple's ability to stream media events live, the need for such events is lessened. Apple no longer has to plan new product announcements based on the schedule of someone else's event. So Macworld Expo was living on borrowed time after Apple choose not to participate in late 2008. All of the previous conferences were centered around Apple for better or worse, and once the focal point of the event departed, other key exhibitors began to depart too.
I suppose you can't fault IDG for attempting to keep it going. The company exists to make a profit and if revenue received from exhibitors and conference attendees covered their costs and provided a decent profit, there would be no reason to give it up. There could be no other reason for the decision to discontinue the event, however they wish to label that decision.
Meanwhile, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we welcomed columnist Dan Frakes, a former Macworld editor, who discussed the decision to discontinue the print edition of the oldest Mac magazine, and to put the Macworld / iWorld conference on "hiatus." He also talked about current Apple issues, such as iOS 8 and Yosemite.
You also heard from security expert Alain Ghiai, CEO of DigitalSafe, who focused on smartphone safety and whether Americans should be concerned over the government's claimed right to "break down the doors" to our digital privacy. He also discussed the company's encrypted cloud storage system, which is based in Switzerland.
Our final segment featured commentator Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. His bill of fare included the possible reasons why iPad sales are flagging, the disconnected coverage of the goings on at Apple, the prospects for the Apple Watch and how it sucked the air out of the smartwatch market for this holiday season. He also commented briefly on Microsoft Windows 10, which is currently available as a Technical Preview.
With such a wide range of topics on the agenda, this was a simply fascinating episode, and I invite you all to give it a listen.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris welcome back Richard Dolan, who returns to talk about his new book "UFOs for the 21st Century Mind: A Fresh Guide to an Ancient Mystery," which is garnering rave reviews. Unlike other books on the subject, Dolan gives a thorough overview of the subject starting in the ancient past and working his way to the present day. He re-examines the classic cases and looks at the political, economic, religious, scientific and cultural implications of UFOs, not to mention the current state of ufology. The topic of disclosure is addressed at length. We'll cover a wide range of subjects and Dolan responds to questions from our listeners.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
REVISITING APPLE AND PLANNED OBSOLESENCE
Apple is making a huge deal of one of the key components of OS X Yosemite, Handoff, part of the Continuity integration feature that allows relatively easy interaction with a Mac and iOS device. But many Mac users have been orphaned. Handoff lets you do what the name implies, which is to start a message, or a document in a supported app or open a web site, among other things, and be able to pick up where you left off on another device on the same Wi-Fi network.
If you watched the demonstration at June's WWDC, as I did, you might wonder why it doesn't seem to work on your Mac. The reason is that millions of older models are excluded, because, in part, they lack Bluetooth 4.0 LE hardware. Even 2011 Macs with the correct Bluetooth components are not on the list, though perhaps the reasons are more complex. Regardless, it's not as if Apple made the fine print terribly clear to you unless you read some of the press accounts on the matter, or consulted a support document on Apple's site.
You might feel betrayed that Handoff, and other OS X Yosemite features, including AirDrop, are missing in action because you haven't purchased a new Mac in recent years. Is this all a plot on the part of Apple to entice you to buy a new computer?
It's true that Mac sales have reached record levels, higher than ever despite the overall decline in the PC market. According to Tim Cook, the Mac's market share has returned to levels not achieved since 1995, before Windows 95 made Microsoft's second-rate Mac OS imitation credible enough to be embraced in the business world.
But what about better support for older Macs?
It's clear that Apple is not going to omit a feature because it doesn't work on older hardware. That's no way to advance the platform. At the same time, Apple customers are a critical lot, and they will complain if performance is not acceptable. So it appears that Handoff takes advantage of the fact that Bluetooth LE consumes less power when making persistent connections, required for the feature to work. This will ensure the minimum amount of battery drain. There are likely other reasons, too, which is why older desktop Macs aren't compatible either.
Regardless, if battery life was sucked dry too quickly, it would make Handoff less than useful. That may not be a serious issue for Microsoft and Google, but Apple is justifiably hung up on usability and reliability. It's not that they've achieved perfection, but this decision appears to be reasonable. After all, Yosemite is otherwise fast and fluid even on some of the older hardware on which it is supported. Once upon a time an OS upgrade routinely made older gear run sluggishly, so it's nice to see minimal impact, but it is true that iOS 8 is a slug on the oldest gear on which it can be loaded.
Yes, it so happens that there are some unsupported schemes to enable Handoff on older Macs. One requires replacing the wireless hardware, and that can be dicey and fraught with peril. So I won't recommended that step unless you are happy to take such risks and understand the potential downsides if the installation fails.
While you may feel that Microsoft reaches farther into the past for Windows 8.1, such as it is, you'll find the system requirements are near impossible to understand by regular people, something about a PC with a processor "1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2."
How do you know about those last three? Well Microsoft says, "If your PC doesn't support PAE, NX, and SSE2, you won’t be able to install Windows 8.1. When you download Windows 8.1 from the Store or run Upgrade Assistant, we’ll let you know if your processor doesn't support PAE and SSE2, if it might not support NX, or if NX is turned off in the PC BIOS. If NX appears to be off, the installer will try to turn it on during installation and, if it can't, it will return your PC to the current operating system."
If it sounds messy to you, you're in good company.
Where planned obsolescence is really practiced is Android. If you have a recent handset, it still may not have the latest and greatest OS from Google, and the chances that you'll be able to get an upgrade, even for critical performance bugs and security fixes, are slim to none. You have to basically expect that the OS that ships on your device is the one you'll be stuck with.
Later this year, Google is expected to release version 5.0 Lollipop. But there will be hundreds of millions of devices on which it will never be installed, and loads of low-end gear on which it wouldn't work well if you could find a way to load it. That's real planned obsolescence, and it impacts products that may even be brand new.
Talk about being unfair.
And don't get me started about the people who bought Windows Phone handsets with version 7 only to discover that they'd never be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8 or later. Talk about cheating the customer!
The long and short of it is that, as far as I'm concerned, Apple is taking a reasoned and logical approach to deciding which gear to abandon and which gear to support with new OS releases. It's not a secret plot to force you to buy a new Mac, a new iPhone or a new iPad. It's just about doing business in a fair and responsible way that serves the best interests of both the company and the customer.
THE "APPLE ON A ROLL" REPORT
What a difference a couple of years make. In 2012, with Apple's stock on the decline amid growing skepticism about perceived minor product refreshes, the critics were out in force claiming the company was doomed.
A fair number went so far as to suggest that Tim Cook was the wrong man for the job, and that he should be replaced with — well, someone or other. After all, wasn't Cook the supply chain dude? How can anyone suggest he's capable of running a company that depends on having a unique vision to empower ongoing innovation? How does adding a speedier processor or making a few form factor revisions demonstrate that Apple still has its mojo?
Besides, didn't Apple miss Wall Street expectations from time to time? How could the iPhone possibly continue to compete with Android, especially Samsung? Isn't Samsung the largest handset maker on the planet? So Apple is thus fated to revert to niche status eventually. Indeed, some were proclaiming that Microsoft's Windows Phone platform would eventually supplant iOS in the number two spot.
Oh the indignity of it all!
One thing Cook didn't do was to go tit-for-tat with the media. He just kept going and going, and it seemed that he knew something the rest of the world didn't know. Well, except for Apple's customers who continued to buy near gear year after year. And wasn't it interesting that the Mac's growth, in the twilight of the PC era, still manages to exceed that of the rest of the industry?
In 2014, the media can barely stop talking about how well Apple is doing. You still hear the fear-mongering, particularly when glitches or perceived glitches are discovered. So we learned that all those celebrities who had their nude photos posted online had their iCloud accounts hacked essentially because they didn't brother to establish secure passwords. It wasn't Apple's fault entirely, though blocking so-called persistent or brute force connections was a positive move.
We also learned that the latest Apple hardware scandal, BendGate, was essentially a non-issue. If a few people wanted to bend a $750 aluminum mobile computer with a deliberate effort, and post the results on YouTube for fun and profit from targeted ads, that was their business. Tests demonstrated that Apple's design wasn't flawed. Even Consumer Reports, no friend of Apple, failed to demonstrate that the iPhone 6 Plus, the alleged worst offender, was somehow defective.
Apple's financials for the September quarter brought the point home. Higher than expected sales of the iPhone and the Mac, and while the iPad isn't doing quite as well as some hoped, it's clear Apple isn't giving up on the product. The lineup has been expanded, largely by keeping older models around, and it remains to be seen whether the increased push in the enterprise will reverse the sales trend.
At the same time, Apple continues to receive unfair treatment from some industry analyst firms. So we have IDC underreporting Mac sales quarter after quarter, and not being called on it by Apple and others. Their surveys are taken as fact, despite the flaws. Is that because IDC's clients want the results to seem more favorable to their interests?
Meanwhile, Microsoft offered decent but not great quarterly financials. Close to one billion dollars worth of Surface tablets were sold, but most who reported these results failed to consider that total unit sales were but a fraction of the numbers achieved by the iPad.
Amazon may have earned a decent amount of revenue, not quite what Wall Street wanted, but $20.58 billion is nothing to cry over. But an operating loss of $544 million doesn't seem terribly encouraging. It's not that hardware sales are necessarily firing on all cylinders either. The Fire Phone, the first foray by the company into essentially full-priced hardware, rather than being solid at or near cost, was an utter failure. It didn't take long for Amazon's first smartphone to be consigned to the 99 cent closeout bin with a two-year AT&T wireless contract. Oh the indignity of it all!
Samsung also continued to report slowing smartphone sales and lower profits. Worse, the major part of sales are concentrated at the low end, cheap gear that yields very little profit. By building larger smartphones, Apple has sucked the air out of the Galaxy market. Till now, Samsung could boast about having a larger screen size along with a bunch of flashy but mostly unusable features. The emperor that is Samsung now has no clothes.
This doesn't mean there are no longer any question marks. Apple Pay is in the early stages, and the glitches with Bank of America, where some customers had their cards charged twice, clearly indicates the experience may need a bit of improvement. Apple's second new product category, Apple Watch, isn't due until early 2015, and there's really no way to guess its potential, except for the fact that purchases of other smartwatches this holiday season may now be put on hold.
Still Apple is in a pretty good place, and I wonder what excuse the critics will come up with next to suggest the company must still be toast.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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