THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
Is the Night Owl ready for VR? As most of you know, I’m not exactly a gaming person, although I did give it a try when we bought a console for Grayson years ago. I’m not even sure he was much of a gaming person either, because it fell into disuse after a while. But the promise VR takes the experience to a whole new level of potential reality, although it’s very much an individual experience.
But when I consider what it’s like to be transported, Tron-like, and immersed into another place for some fun and frolic or whatever it is, I am somewhat tempted to take a more serious look at the whole situation. This is the sort of product that has been labeled as a potential blockbuster. But maybe not yet, because a 2016 survey of nearly 14,000 game enthusiasts from Gamer Network indicated that only 15% actually planned to buy a VR headset last year, with another 60% saying no way.
As a sometimes sci-fi writer, I wonder when someone will have the bright idea of introducing a concept at a future CES to taut a direct implant to the back of your head that embeds VR circuitry. So you can be transported whenever you like into this fantasy reality without any accessory gear, just as it’s been done in some stories of a potential dystopian future. But I hardly think medical clinics will be crowded with people wanting someone to drill holes in their heads.
Now on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. In addition to a brief pop culture segment where Gene schooled Jeff on the correct pronunciation of the wacky DC Comics character, “Mister Mxyzptlk,” the discussion focused on the MacBook Pro and the controversy over the battery tests from Consumer Reports, in which Apple’s notebooks were at first not recommended until retested, likely under protest. And what about all the great gadgets introduced at the CES in Las Vegas? According to Jeff, there were more products that appeared to be ready to sell, rather than to show off an idea that may never make it into production.
You also heard from Russell Holly, managing editor of VRHeads. After a brief focus on smartphone sales, and whether the market can continue to grow quickly, the discussion moved to the upcoming Nintendo Switch gaming console. Nintendo is trying to get a leg up on the competition from Microsoft and Sony by including a small embedded tablet that can be used for gameplay on the road. You also heard about popular gadgets at the CES, but the main focus was Russell’s special introduction to VR technology. Are those goggles poised to take over the consumer electronics market in a big way? What about shared experiences among more than a single player? Are there any downsides other than the relatively high price of admission for the best VR gear?
All right, I’ve weighed in on this subject already, so I’ll move on.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: After over 30 years researching the case, Kevin D. Randle’s recent book, “Roswell in the 21st Century,” may be the definitive work on the subject. With hundreds of listed references and a long bibliography, he has clearly done his research to separate truth from the fiction in this legendary case. He has found that some of the Roswell claims, such as the existence of alien bodies, to be less compelling upon reinvestigation, and you’ll find out why. And what about those controversial MD-12 documents? Kevin D. Randle is a retired soldier, and a prolific science fact and science fiction writer. This episode features guest co-host Erica Lukes and forum moderator Goggs Mackay.
IT’S ALL ON APPLE — AS USUAL
So consider some of the so-called conventional wisdoms we hear about in the tech business. You know what I mean: The smartphone has reached the zenith of its development curve. Everyone who wants one has one, except for developing countries where people are just catching up. Besides, cheap gear from Chinese handset makers, with all or most of the features of the expensive gear from Apple and Samsung. will soon take over. It’s the PC playbook all over again. Companies are already racing to the bottom in trying to build gear that costs less and less. Profits be damned!
I suppose that seems logical enough. Existing gear is probably good enough for most people, and except for countries where people just can’t afford them, what magnificent features can manufacturers devise to entice people to upgrade in massive numbers? And if the existing gear keeps working well enough — and doesn’t need a new battery or some other costly repair — users are more inclined to hang onto them for a little longer.
So what’s Apple going to do in order to boost smartphone sales?
Notice, I only mentioned Apple. I didn’t mention HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, or Pixel, Phone by Google for example. When people look to major new developments in the industry, Apple is in the crosshairs. Maybe it’s because just about every smartphone out there with a touchscreen is essentially based on an iPhone. Apple built the prototype for the entire industry. Even if you’re a devoted Android user — and have no use for iOS — it’s hard to ignore the fact that Google’s OS was looking to BlackBerry and similar gear for its inspiration until Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in 2007.
That explains why the critics were disappointed at the iPhone 7, and even the iPhone 7 Plus. All right, having two cameras was somewhat of a big deal, and maybe that’s why the larger iPhone apparently had higher demand than originally expected. Otherwise, being water-resistant, having a non-mechanical Home button, and sporting superior camera optics and processing software, was no big deal.
It also seems that the lack of a headphone jack was not such a big deal either. Despite the claims from some ill-informed pundits about forcing people to use wireless earphones, forgetting that Apple includes a wired earphone and an adapter cable in the box, complaints were by and large non-starters. The sole valid complaint is probably the fact that you must buy an adaptor if you want to charge the handset and listen with wired earphones at the same time.
Since there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of advancement in the Mac space in 2016, Apple was criticized for its apparent lack of innovation. But what did Lenovo, the largest PC company on the planet, introduce to the world of personal computers anyway? What about HP and Dell or Asus for that matter? What did they bring to the table?
Or did most of their sales include perfectly ordinary PC desktops and notebooks that were essentially the same as other PC desktops and notebooks?
2-in-1 notebooks? That’s nothing new either. It’s an outgrowth of Microsoft’s original vision for tablets, which were basically notebooks with touchscreens. Today’s gear is slimmer and lighter, curiously following the MacBook Air playbook.
So why isn’t Apple building MacBooks or MacBook Pros with touchscreens?
Apple claims to envision the existing notebook form factor as lasting for another 25 years. For the foreseeable future, or ever, it will not have a touchscreen, and the use case for one is debatable. Some users appear not to mind, but how many people who buy 2-in-1’s really use them as tablets anyway, or in a mixed setup with keyboard and touchscreen?
I can only speak for myself — and people I’ve talked to — but the few times I’ve tried to use a tablet with a keyboard, I’ve found the effort uncomfortable. It’s not just raising my arm to touch the screen, but the fact that the usual iPad keyboard has, at best, awkward cursor navigation. I do not mean using touchpad mode on an iPad’s display.
The fact that the Late 2016 MacBook Pros are slimmer and lighter is nothing new. Performance is mostly somewhat better than the 2015 model, except for a far speedier SSD. Of course, the latter will help for many things, including situations where 16GB isn’t enough RAM and you have to rely on virtual memory. With multi gigabyte read/write speeds, the performance dip may be barely noticeable.
Apple’s main advancement is the Touch Bar. Whether that means anything to you depends on whether you are using one of the few apps that take advantage of the new feature. One article on the subject complained that Microsoft Office for Mac appears to be the only major app supporting Touch Bar, forgetting the demonstration of Adobe Photoshop at Apple’s media event. In December, Adobe released a beta update with that support, and it’ll also be part of the forthcoming Photoshop 2017 for Mac.
It will be one of those rare circumstances where Adobe is releasing a Mac version of one of its flagship apps that holds a significant advantage over the Windows version. So does that mean future PC notebooks will have an equivalent of the Touch Bar?
I suppose that will be awfully hard to do. Apple’s implementation requires using two processors and two operating systems. As most of you know, the Touch Bar is powered by an ARM processor, similar to the one on an Apple Watch, using an OS derived from watchOS. Or will the critics just complain that Apple is somehow engaged in a conspiracy to make the Mac run more like an Apple Watch?
No, I won’t belabor the point that tablets didn’t come into their own until Apple showed the way with the iPad. Microsoft’s tablet concepts went absolutely nowhere. This just goes to show that Apple remains the fountain of innovation from which other tech companies continue to engage in binge drinking.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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