THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
Whether a wireless carrier or "uncarrier," when you make a deal for a new mobile package, with or without the mobile handset, you think the price is fixed. But there are so many variations on the theme, it's possible two identical people with two identical or near-identical plans will pay very different prices.
Indeed, over the past year, I've convinced AT&T to cut the price I pay twice as plans were modified. As of today, I'm paying roughly two thirds what I did last year, and I have not given up looking for better deals.
Well, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, Managing Editor for iMore, talked about the possibilities of the iPhone 6, the ins and outs of those complicated wireless carrier contracts, whether NFC networking will be available in the next iPhone — and what about the iWatch?
You also heard from John Uppendahl, VP Communications for Parallels, who discussed the release of Parallels Desktop for Mac version 10, and how it allow you to run guest operating systems on your Mac — including Windows and OS X Yosemite.
My first encounter with Parallels occurred in 2006, shortly after the first Macs with Intel Inside arrived. Apple had released a beta of Boot Camp, which allowed you to reboot your Mac into a genuine Windows environment. Compare that to the PowerPC Mac, where running a PC emulator delivered glacial performance, and that was for the best products.
Well, one day I heard from Ben Rudolph, then of Parallels, who offered me the opportunity to beta test Parallels Desktop for Mac. While still somewhat buggy, the performance boost was amazing. Windows, such as it was, became useful without needing to partition my Mac's drive or reboot. These days, Ben is working at Microsoft, by the way.
We also featured Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of "Take Control of Apple TV," who recounted his odyssey in having a defective battery in his iPhone 5 replaced by Apple. Service policies and planned obsolescence will also be discussed. And is Josh ready to consider buying an iWatch?
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Explore 25 years of UFO sightings in Canada with long-time investigator Chris Rutkowski. He and his colleagues have accumulated a huge archive containing some 15,000 UFO cases in Canada. The new survey covers the years 1989 through 2013. When you check the report at his Ufology Research site, you'll notice that the number of sightings increased in 2012 before settling down to a somewhat lower, but still historically high, level in 2013. Says his bio: "Chris Rutkowski, BSc, MEd, is a Canadian science writer and educator, with a background in astronomy but with a passion for teaching science concepts to children and adults. Since the mid-1970s, he also has been studying reports of UFOs and writing about his investigations and research."
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.
APPLE SUPPORT STILL FAR FROM PERFECT
Every so often, Apple announces an extended warranty repair program for a product that suffers from one or more serious defects. Over the years, Macs have been subject to special programs because of logic boards or power supplies that are prone to failure. More recently, Apple has begun replacing batteries on the iPhone 5 that are subject to premature wear.
Unfortunately, it almost seems as if the news about these special repair programs is on a need to know basis, unless you happen to stumble upon a support message at Apple's site. So I recall an episode where a friend, a graphic designer, replaced a component in his iMac's power supply. He was charged several hundred dollars for the privilege by an authorized repair shop.
Now you may know where I'm going with this. When the problem occurred a second time, my friend took his iMac to an Apple Store, only to discover that the repair was actually covered under an extended warranty. What about the previous repair? Well, Apple arranged for him to get his money back. That's a good thing. The offending dealer, by the way, is now out of business, but shady behavior may be only one of the reasons.
Not so good is the fact that Apple doesn't really make a special effort to get this information out to the affected customers. It's not that they do not know who you are, since they have your iTunes account information, your Apple ID and even your credit card number. There is nothing to stop them from reaching out to you using your contact information. They have your email address and likely your phone number, so there's no excuse.
After all, if your car is subject to a recall — and millions are facing that prospect because of the serious defects with the ignition switches on several models of GM vehicles — you will get a letter from the manufacturer assuming that the information in their warranty database is accurate.
Again Apple has no excuse not to reach out to customers to deal with such problems. As tech companies go, Apple supposedly has the best technical support in the industry, but there are serious lapses along the way, with a growing emphasis of form above easy serviceability.
Now back in the early days of the Mac, Steve Jobs had the vision of a computer appliance. You don't open appliances to fiddle with them, you just hook them up and turn them on. This was why it was so difficult to service those original Mac all-in-ones.
It's not that Apple considered easy servicing even in the years between the two Jobs regimes. I remember the original Power Macintosh 8100 and its successors, where changing RAM required removing the logic board after unplugging some delicate cables. It wasn't hard, but was a terribly annoying and time-wasting process, and this questionable design was retained though several generations.
On the day that Apple demonstrated a simple way to open the case and replace parts at a small media event, they received a round of applause for just being sensible. Unfortunately, the introduction of the first iMac returned to the appliance concept. Yes, you could replace RAM, or even a full logic board, but it required complete disassembly.
Lately Apple has chosen to remove all consideration of easy service. You cannot replace RAM on the 21.5-inch iMac, nor most MacBooks other than a legacy MacBook Pro. This argues against the "just work" image of a Mac that Apple strives to convey. If you cannot even replace RAM, let alone a defective hard drive, how does that serve the interests of the customer? It hardly serves the service people either, whether employed by Apple or a third-party, because they have to work harder and longer to perform needed repairs.
Yes, I suppose serviceability becomes harder when a company strives to make tech gear slim, light and great looking. Perhaps it makes sense on an iPhone or an iPad, where everything is tiny, and making it easy to pop off a cover and swapping a battery may work against the sexy form factor. Maybe, although there are online instructions that do explain how you can perform these repairs if you are very careful and use the right tools. Still, there's a fairly high risk of damaging the case or, worse, the delicate internal components that will be expensive to repair.
It would be refreshing if one of the reporters who gets an interview with a key Apple executive would, instead of fawning over their subject, actually press them to explain why users cannot perform routine service on most Mac notebooks and the smaller iMac. There has to be a logical reason other than design considerations, although I cannot think of any that make sense.
But even if the ability to repair your Mac will, by and large, always be compromised, that doesn't mean Apple shouldn't find a better way to communicate with customers when things need to be fixed due to no fault of their own. What's more, when you book a visit with the Genius Bar at an Apple Store to perform one of those repairs, Apple should offer a checkbox so you can confirm the purpose of your visit. That way, if parts aren't available, you can reschedule.
More important, if your Apple gadget requires repair that may take more than a single day, you should have the option to receive a temporary replacement, even for a small rental fee. Maybe not with an iPhone or an iPad, but surely with a Mac. Imagine being without your work tool for even a few hours. I also suppose Apple could offer a higher-cost business version of AppleCare that would accommodate such needs without an extra payment.
What I'm proposing shouldn't seriously impact Apple's profits, but it sure would help sales, particularly from skeptical switchers who might actually believe that the expensive gear they buy shouldn't be near-impossible to repair.
THE DOWNSIDE OF THE END-OF-SEASON TV CLIFFHANGER
You know the scene: In the final episode of the season, a main character in a TV show is placed in peril. So you have the TV comedy procedural, "Castle," where Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) is evidently killed or kidnapped by wrongdoers on the way to his wedding. It may be a cliche, since we know he'll be back next year happy and healthy with a ready quip, but the process from here to there will be thrilling and fun.
So "Castle" will be back for season seven beginning September 29, with the first of a two-parter to resolve the cliffhanger. But what happens if the network or producers decide to cancel a show before the unfinished business is resolved?
With some TV shows, all or most of the loose ends are usually dealt with in a single episode, but that doesn't always happen. Even the various "Law & Order" procedurals have featured multi-part episodes, but usually during the season not at the end, with an exception or two. We all know about the huge audience who watched the first episode of a new season of the original "Dallas" series in 1980 to see who really shot JR.
That's all well and good, but what if the series is cancelled before you learn how things turned out. Here's a spoiler alert in case you never saw the episodes I'll summarize below:
So to end the fourth season of a TV police procedural on the A&E Network, "The Glades," starring Australian actor Matt Passmore as a Florida-based homicide detective, he's shot. This happens on his wedding day, and you wonder whether the producers of "Castle" were watching.
In any case, "The Glades" was canceled shortly thereafter. In passing, you wonder whether the producers knew the the series was in danger of being axed by the network when they shot the final episode. If they did, you'd expect they'd have the common sense to resolve the ongoing series arcs.
Take yet another more recent example, "Longmire," a modern day western about Montana sheriff Walt Longmire, based on a series of best-selling mystery novels from Craig Johnson. Yet another Australian actor, Robert Taylor (no relation to the late American actor of the same name) portrays the lead role, with Katee Sackhoff, best known for her role as Starbuck in "Battlestar Galactica," as one of Longmire's deputies.
Once again, the series was run on the A&E network. In this case, ratings were consistently decent, with a viewing audience of over three million each episode, although demographics rated older because of the relative lack of youth appeal.
In any case, on the final episode of season three, we see a possible resolution to the mystery of the death of Longmire's wife. It turns out that the father of deputy sheriff Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) hired someone to kill Longmire's wife in an irrational, power hungry effort to advance his son's political career. In the final scenes, shots are fired, and we don't know whether or not Branch or his dad, Barlow Connally, as portrayed by the great character actor Gerald McRaney, was injured or killed. Or perhaps both.
So the bigwigs at A&E opted not to renew a series with serious plot elements unresolved. This time, however, the producers of "Longmire" are reportedly shopping for another network. In passing, I wonder whether Netflix would consider a final season for the show. They did that with "The Killing," cancelled by AMC, but brought back by Netflix for a six episode run to resolve the story.
At least producers and TV networks do sometimes show respect to their audience by announcing a final season in advance, such as "True Blood," which ended last week and, in the forthcoming season, "Bones," on the Fox Network, and TNT's "Falling Skies," a sci-fi drama produced by Steven Spielberg. These are just some of the more notable examples.
I think you'll all agree that it's a smart idea to end a series even when audiences are good, particularly if the plot lines have "jumped the shark." But when a network willy nilly cancels a show leaving the audience in the lurch, they owe everyone an explanation and an apology for the time invested by fans. As with the sci-fi space opera "Farscape," they might consider producing a TV movie to conclude the story. But that requires a little respect for a loyal audience. Unfortunately, profits and ratings usually get in the way.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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