THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
As I watched the live feed from Apple's media event stop, and stumble, and heard a Chinese translator overwhelming the audio, I realized that an amazing number of people had probably tuned in. Sure, that doesn't exactly explain the flawed audio pickup, which was more or less fixed after a short while. But it was quite clear that tens of millions around the world were interested in anything about Apple.
Indeed, no single current TV show achieves a similar simultaneous audience. Sure, it may have happened in the glory days of network TV, but nowadays a show with five or ten million live viewers may be considered a huge success. Assuming a fair number of Apple customers, or would-be Apple customers, were tempted by the presentation, sales figures for the new iPhones seemed destined to be off the charts.
So on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the focus was, one again, on the product announcements from Apple, expected and otherwise. You heard about the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, the Apple Watch and Apple Pay. Our guest panelists also talked about the forthcoming demise of the print version of Macworld magazine, and the dismissal of most of their full-time editorial staff.
In passing, Macworld's statement on the decision was lame, downplaying the fate of all those editors who got canned. They deserved more than a passing reference in a single paragraph. It was also curious that at least some of the new staffers once worked at MacAddict or its successor, Mac|Life. Curious indeed.
You heard from Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, and Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, Since Bryan is a watch aficionado, particularly the more expensive models, you got some special insights about the Apple Watch. He also talked about what he regards as the most comfortable headphone he's ever used.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Our guest, Col. John Alexander, needs no introduction. He is easily one of the most enigmatic and intriguing figures in ufology today. He has recently completed another in a series of world-wide journeys and we've invited him to share his thoughts on the interconnectedness of paranormal phenomena. He writes, "There is no doubt about the physical reality of some UFOs. The hard evidence, however, suggests they are part of a far greater mystery; one that engulfs many phenomena. Traditional Western science has created blinders and ignores inconvenient facts that are accepted readily in other societies." Alexander has firmly established UFO existence and will "explore their relationship to wonders long known to indigenous shamans all over the world."
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.
WHEN SUCCESS IS NOT SUCCESS
If you were waiting patiently, hoping to order an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus on the morning of Friday, September 12, you might have been very disappointed. Apple's servers were slammed, delivering "sorry" messages to many of those who fought to get a connection and place an order.
It was no better at the wireless carrier sites, where the ordering systems were just overwhelmed. What's more, it didn't take so long for delivery times to slip, first with the iPhone 6 Plus, and later by its smaller compatriot. It may also be that Apple didn't have as many of the phablet-sized iPhones to ship, so available, or anticipated stocks were quickly depleted.
Of course, the number of units available for shipment on the day of release will probably not be known, although one might make educated guesses from the initial sales figures. It's also very likely that Apple won't actually break down the numbers for the various models, except in general. So if Apple says that the larger model did better than anticipated, that's a good thing since prices — and profits — are higher. Well, except for some tech pundits who will complain about poor planning.
Making bad news out of good is nothing new. The critics will claim that Apple should have anticipated potential sales volume and acted accordingly, just as they should have ordered up enough capacity to handle an even wider audience for the media event stream. The conspiratorial among that crew might even suggest Apple deliberately makes it harder for you to place an order for the hype value.
But actually selling product means higher revenues, so why prevent a paying customer from placing an order?
So the claim that demand for the new iPhones was larger than anticipated, if that holds through beyond the first week on sale, would be the best hype of all. Will it be a "mere" ten million on the first weekend, a million more than last year? Or will it be even higher? A lot of this may depend on how many units Apple had available to ship.
Don't forget, for example, those rumors that the iPhone 6 Plus wouldn't even ship at the start, that Apple was having trouble ramping up production because of the new manufacturing techniques, availability of raw materials, or some combination of the two. Apple will, of course, not admit to such things. The best you might hear is something about more orders than anticipated or something like that.
It's also important to look at the competition, and see how their first weekends fare. Sure, sometimes you hear about sellouts, usually with no indication how many units were sold or available. But nobody has come close to the numbers Apple touts, and it's rare that people buying other smartphones or tablets encounter the preorder blues in the way they do with the latest gear from Apple.
Certainly not with the Samsung Galaxy S4, or the Galaxy S5, which reportedly didn't do near as well as hoped. The only possible negative would be if Apple can't match last years launch weekend numbers, which appears to be extremely doubtful. One indicator is the fact that some four million were preordered on the very first day, according to Apple, twice as much as the 2012 launch of the iPhone 5. So, if enough units are available, sales as of the first weekend might approach 12 million or even more; again, if Apple has enough product to ship.
Remember this is a new form factor, along with much larger display sizes. The iPhone 6 Plus, for example, has sucked the wind out of the competition, which only had bigger display sizes to tout. That argument is lost, and even a slightly bigger smartphone, phablet, or whatever you prefer to call these things, isn't a significant difference. In the real world, 5.5 inches and 5.7 inches aren't so far apart as to be that noticeable.
Now yet another argument is that, once pent-up demand is satisfied, sales will decline sharply. That is sometimes true with some movies, where avid fans might rush to the theater, but box office receipts drop rapidly if word of mouth isn't positive.
Unless the iPhone 6 smartphones are rather less than they seemed during last week's presentation, and the hands-on experiences of some of the assembled journalists, demand will likely not fall off substantially. Don't forget that, in the last quarter, iPhones continued to move at a good clip. Even that alleged failure, the iPhone 5c, supposedly continued to sell better than Apple anticipated. This year, an 8GB version of the 5c remains in the lineup as the "free" model with a carrier contract.
In any case, should a new iPhone be on your shopping list, prepare to wait. As of the time I wrote this article, it will take seven to 10 business days to ship beyond the September 19th release date. That takes it to the first week of October. The iPhone 6 Plus will take three to four weeks to ship beyond the launch date.
Maybe you'll fare better at an Apple Store if you care to wait in line. Sometimes the carriers can offer somewhat better availability of the model of your choice since they don't get as much foot traffic. But I have long ago given up on standing in line. The world won't end if you wait a few weeks for supplies to catch up. Your existing smartphone, Apple or otherwise, will or should not suddenly stop working.
As for me, after going through the early wakeup routine for a few years, I decided that a good night's sleep and a little patience is the best way to go.
THE DANGERS OF GETTING SHERLOCKED
If you are somewhat new to the Mac universe, you'll wonder what the term "sherlocked" is all about. First and foremost, it has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, the "Sherlock" or "Elementary" TV shows, or even actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. These are all about modern-day recreations of the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In the Apple universe, it's about Apple releasing a utility or adding a feature that all or mostly replaces the function of a third-party utility. So once there was Watson, from Karelia Software. Released in 2001, Watson was intended to serve as a companion to Apple's Sherlock search utility. It divided functions into "services," add-on modules that offered special functions, such as checking movie schedules and watching trailers. Sherlock soon assumed such features, and Watson became an endangered app.
Now one thing is certain: A Mac utility may have a finite life cycle. These utilities are designed to enhance or add functions to the operating system. But that doesn't mean Apple won't decide to do it their way, and that happens from time to time. But during their lifetimes, there may be a healthy income from providing all those extra or missing functions.
In some cases, Apple will buy a third-party app or utility and make it their own. In the days of the classic Mac OS, for example, both Extensions Manager and Apple Menu Items were based on utilities acquired by Apple. In a notable case, Apple bought Casady & Greene's SoundJam Plus, hired the original developers, and released iTunes. Indeed, one of the original developers, Jeffrey L. Robbin, is reported to be Apple's VP of Consumer Applications. He also is said to continue to serve as lead developer of iTunes, although the team of worker bees behind any individual Apple product or service is rarely identified below the senior management level.
One of the latest examples of getting Sherlocked results from the major improvements in Spotlight for OS X Yosemite. It doesn't just search the stuff on your Mac's drive, or a network share, but adds Internet searching as well, using Microsoft Bing and other services. But not Google.
Extra search and app launch capabilities were already available in such apps as Alfred and Launchbar. Indeed, the developers of Alfred, Andrew and Vero Pepperrell, tout the more advanced features of their app in a statement to Yosemite users: "What you have to remember is that Spotlight’s primary objective is to search your files and a small handful of pre-determined web sources. Meanwhile, Alfred’s primary objective is to make you more productive on your Mac with exceptional and powerful features like Clipboard History, System commands, iTunes Mini Player, 1Password bookmarks, Terminal integration, fully bespoke and customisable user-created workflows and much, much more. These features allow you to mould Alfred to your unique needs, and this isn’t going to change whether you use the free version of Alfred or the Powerpack."
There's also a new version of Alfred designed to cater to Yosemite users.
Similar statements may apply to other apps whose functions Apple has in part assumed. But for most Mac users, the basic functionality is sufficient. The publishers of those apps might hope that, once tempted, they might be able to entice users to take a closer look at their products. One hopes they are right, since I wouldn't want to see anyone lose business.
But it's not that you can tell Apple to leave third party developers alone. There is the rush to add new features to an OS, and stepping on a few toes along the way is par for the course. Apple generally does it in a way that doesn't actually infringe on anyone's property. In some cases, Apple still buys the app, but these days focuses mostly on acquiring hardware or services that will enhance their product portfolio.
So there was the 2008 purchase of PA Semi, a chip designer, whose expertise was used to help design the A-series processors. In 2010, Apple bought Siri, a mobile assistant app that famously provided capabilities incorporated first into the iPhone 4S in 2011. The 2011 acquisition of AuthenTec, a mobile security firm that built fingerprint sensors, brought with it technology that formed the basis of Touch ID on the iPhone 5s, and the iPhone 6 series.
In such cases, Apple liked a technology so much they bought the whole company. Software publishers also get acquired from time to time.
For the rest, those who hope to add or enhance system functions must be aware of the fact that they are walking on tightropes. Some day Apple might add similar capabilities in an OS release. It's also true, of course, that some of the new features are adapted from those found in other operating systems, most often Android. Yes, fans of Google's mobile OS may rightly claim Apple cribbed a few ideas for iOS that Android pioneered first, but it's almost always done in a way that there is no question about infringing on anyone's patent rights.
None of this means that there aren't other utilities that Apple should buy, or adapt. A key example is Default Folder X from Jon Gotow, a popular Open/Save dialog enhancer for OS X. A version of Default Folder also existed in the days of the original Mac OS, and the app remains indispensable for Mac power users.
Why hasn't Apple taken notice? Well, that's a good question. Maybe Gotow should be happy his work has, by and large, remained under the radar, although I doubt he'd refuse a large check from Apple and perhaps a job offer should it ever come.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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