THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
So there’s Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Walmart Pay. The latter mobile payment scheme arrives in the wake of the abject failure of CurrentC, which never made it beyond the testing stage. While your MasterCard and Visa work anywhere these cards are accepted, regardless of which financial institution you’re using, the various mobile pay systems do not talk to one another at all. Unless a merchant offers more than one system, it’s all a source of confusion.
Even then, the systems work differently. Walmart Pay requires a special app and QR codes. Last time I visited a Walgreens, the use of Apple Pay wouldn’t allow me to choose “credit” instead of “debit.” I don’t know if that was a one-time glitch or a major change in the way the payment system was structured for the pharmacy chain. I’ll have to check for myself next time I choose to make a payment via that method. Certainly the cashiers didn’t know, and I didn’t want to make an issue of it just to buy $4.00 worth of printer paper.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured columnist and author Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. During this session, Josh dipped into the status of Apple Pay and compared it to Walmart Pay. And what happened to the Apple Pay rival, CurrentC, which Walmart and other vendors had been testing? You also heard Josh’s reaction to the iOS 10 beta, and what he regards as the best features. Both iOS 10 and macOS Sierra are being made available as public betas for download by Apple customers.
You also heard from commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. He focused on a report that scientists are attempting to use a 3D printer to match the fingerprints of a deceased person in order to unlock a protected smartphone. It’s not stated whether this is an iPhone, which sets a 48-hour limit for fingerprint access before requiring a passcode. Bryan also talked about rumors that Apple is ditching the old fashioned headphone jack on the next iPhone in place of using the Lightning port and an adapter. You also heard about reports that Apple has delayed production of an Apple Car until 2021, the potential downsides of self-driving, and about a curious statement about Apple from BlackBerry CEO John S. Chen.
Now when it comes to those reports about postponing the launch of that rumored Apple Car, I have to wonder whether that’s an excuse to explain why it may never come to be. Or maybe it does indeed represent an accurate report, that Apple wants to take more time to work on its new motor vehicle.
One possible reason for a delay is to further perfect development of self-driving technology. Clearly it has a long way to go, witness the reports of accidents involving drivers using Tesla’s “autopilot” feature that is, actually, not much more than a souped up cruise control. I am more and more interested in such technologies as I get older, since I realize the time may come when I am unable to drive by myself, and not having to rely on another driver would be a great source of independence, if I can afford such a vehicle.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special return appearance by Linda Godfrey, author of “Monsters Among Us: An Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms, and Odd Phenomena.” If you’ve ever heard an inexplicable bump in the night, caught a glimpse of a strange-looking someone (or something?) out of the corner of your eye, or seen an unusual craft dart across the sky before it vanishes without a trace, there’s only one person to call. Linda is the author of numerous books that offer rare reporting on bigfoot, werewolves, strange energy forms, and other bizarre beings—explores the mystical, legendary, and scientific angles of these creatures . . . and the surprising secret portals and doorways some may use to enter our world.
ABOUT THE ALLEGED FAILURE OF THE APPLE WATCH
Perhaps the biggest source of suspicion about the potential success of the Apple Watch is the fact that Apple won’t reveal how many have been sold. It is placed in the “Other Products” category, so its level of success has to be inferred as a percentage of total sales. It does allow for rough estimates that may not be far off the mark, but it also fuel’s the complaints that it can’t be doing so well because Apple is keeping the numbers close to its vest.
That was a decision made early on, however, before a single unit was sold. Did Apple expect a failure out of the starting gate, or expect it would take several years to deliver meaningful results? Or maybe none of the above.
If you can believe the estimates, however, the Apple Watch is still far and away the number one smartwatch on the planet. Well, maybe sales have declined in the last quarter compared to the competition, but that, too, is a guess. Besides, competing companies are more into shipping loads of product to present the facade of high sales, even though actual sales to real customers are far lower.
Another tact is to put the Apple Watch in an overarching “wearables” category so a lower cost product that only competes in part, a Fitbit, emerges triumphant. This gives the critics a chance to make Apple’s efforts seem less successful.
Early on, however, the Apple Watch was branded an abject failure by some, in part because the company wasn’t selling tens of millions of copies. Without revealing Apple sales, it was pointed out that initial Apple Watch sales were higher than early sales for the iPhone and the iPad. But the ramp up may be slower.
While the Apple Watch gets positive customer reviews to the nines, even those who like the product don’t always love it. While they can recite the fitness and notification features they like, it’s not exactly indispensable. This doesn’t mean they aren’t giving it good ratings, and it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t buy another when that time comes.
But saying the Apple Watch isn’t fully formed shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is an all-new product in a new category for Apple. Compare it to the iPhone, which debuted in 2007 with a number of shortcomings, another new product in a new category. Most important was the fact that there was no App Store then; it didn’t debut until 2008.
Even without the apps, which represent some of the most compelling aspects of an iPhone, it didn’t even support 3G networking. It was EDGE, which meant glacial uploads and downloads. Maybe it was all right for email and lightweight web sites, but speeds below 384 kilobits are only a few times faster than dialup. The following year’s iPhone 3G was capable of two megabit downloads. Usable but still quite slow.
The other limitation of the first iPhone was the fact that it was only available from one wireless carrier, AT&T. Worse, AT&T’s network wasn’t quite as solid as it was now, and lots of people in different places confronted dropouts or the inability to make a call. While not perfect, AT&T in 2016 is far better.
But the person who bought that first iPhone, and I was not among them although I did receive a sample from Apple to review for several weeks, bought a smart gadget with lots of potential that wasn’t quite realized. It wasn’t enough to persuade me and probably others to surrender their mobile handsets and embrace Apple.
So if you compare Apple Watch 1.0 to that first iPhone, even after loads of improvements in watchOS, you’ll find lapses. My exposure to the Apple Watch was limited. It was enough, though, to convince me that I should wait and continue to use my $12.88 Walmart watch.
Obviously, Apple has made a long-term commitment to the product. It appears to be successful enough to fuel development of new versions. It may take several generations for people to learn to love it. For me, it would have to be fast and fluid, not sluggish as it is now. I would also prefer to see it untethered from the iPhone. So if you leave your iPhone behind when jogging, today’s Apple Watch soldiers on with greatly reduced functionality.
Now the requirement to pair with an iPhone was clearly necessary to allow the Apple Watch to work with maximum efficiency, and to hold a cellular data connection. When it has its own cellular radio, things will change. People may still prefer the larger display and flexibility of an iPhone, but if they can get the basics with an Apple Watch, the ability to originate and receive phone calls without another gadget on your pocket, it’s quite possible it’ll carve out a much larger piece of the mobile device pie.
I’m not predicting when an Apple Watch will gain the cellular radio. I feel it might happen by 2017. Still, Apple is expected to introduce a version 2.0 with a number of enhancements that require less dependance on your iPhone. But those who believe the Apple Watch would eventually become cross-platform, working with an Android handset, are whistling in the dark. Even if such compatibility is possible, and it would require a special app, there would be too many hardware and OS complications and compromises. And I haven’t considered the competitive factors.
Regardless, asserting that the Apple Watch is a hopeless case appeals not just to critics, but to the competition. If Apple were to scale back on the Apple Watch or give it up altogether, the executives at Pebble, Samsung, Fitbit, and other companies with wearables in their product lineups, would be breathing big sighs of relief.
I’ll have a lot more to say on the subject when the next Apple Watch appears. Indeed, I suppose it’s possible it’ll show up at the end of the iPhone 7 rollout event. That would be a good time.
THE FINAL WORD
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