THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
When a serious SSL encryption bug was discovered recently in OS X and iOS, Apple was attacked for failing to discover it early enough and deliver fixes. Worse, the fact that four days passed between the release of the iOS fix and the OS X fix indicated an even worse alleged dereliction of duty. How could Apple be so careless?
But some of the self-same critics fail to realize that an SSL bug in Android 4.1.1, released in 2012 remains, for users of handsets and tablets running that version Google's mobile OS, unfixed. You see that version of Android suffers from the same so-called "Heartbleed" bug that stayed undiscovered for some two years. This bug impacts OpenSSL, used for establishing secure connections on the majority of Web servers, and thus opened them up to potentially revealing such sensitive information as passwords and credit card numbers.
Evidently Heartbleed was an innocent enough error, the result of a flaw in a new feature added to the open source security software by German developer Robin Seggelmann.
Now the very latest versions of OpenSSL available now do not contain the bug, and Web servers worldwide have been updated or are being updated. The version of OpenSSL used by Apple is an older edition that isn't susceptible to the flaw.
Meantime, people are being asked to change their passwords just to be safe, although it hasn't been revealed whether anyone has actually been compromised by this security leak. As to users of Android 4.1.1, that's a more complicated story. You see, Android updates, except for Google Nexus gear, must first go to the hardware makers and wireless carriers. It's up to them to deploy the fixes to end users, and that rarely happens. So while there is an Android 4.1.2 that doesn't have the bug, it's reported that such high-profile handsets as the HTC One S are still running 4.1.1.
Clearly Google's system of deploying security bugs in Android is severely broken. But the members of the media who complained about Apple allegedly being a few days late to fix a security bug seem to ignore the fact that far more serious security issues still exist on Google's platform.
Meantime, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who discussed the ins and outs of the "Heartbleed" bug, the magazine's first review of the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone, and a number of Microsoft topics, including Office for the iPad and the forthcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update.
Outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, Managing Editor for iMore, gave you his slant on the "Heartbleed" issue and the new products that might come from Apple during June's WWDC conference. He talked about some of the changes you might expect in the next versions of IOS and OS X along with the possibilities for an iWatch.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris conduct a special listener roundtable, featuring three regular listeners of the show whom you might recognize from our forums. You'll hear from HoJack (Howard Jackson), Sentry (Curtis Collins) and Ufology (J. Randall Murphy). This will be a wide-ranging discussion about personal experiences, the impact of UFO abductions, the state of the field and a lot more.
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.
IMAGINING THE NEXT iOS AND OS X
On June 2, 2014, iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks will become yesterday's news. That's when Apple is expected to unveil the next versions of both at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, so let the speculation begin in earnest.
It's not that there's anything necessarily wrong with the existing versions of Apple's free operating systems. But time marches on, and you have to keep up with the program. Besides, iOS 7 was nothing if not controversial. The heavily-modified flat look, the brainchild of superstar designer Sir Jonathan Ive, was thought by some to be inferior to the previous of aging iOS 6.
It didn't help that the initial release was ragged around the edges, although the interface and the options to smooth the excesses were largely resolved in iOS 7.1. Performance on the 2010 iPhone 4 even became good enough to be useful for many, so they didn't have to scramble to somehow induce iOS 6 to be reinstalled. According to the most recent estimate, some 87% of iOS gear still in use are using the latest and greatest OS. Take that Google!
So what might Apple be planning for iOS 8? I suppose the usual feature refinements, but some rumors point to health and fitness features, and maybe even a Healthbook app to coordinate all of your personal data. If an iWatch comes to be, this might be a hub with which to coordinate content from the rumored smartwatch.
I suppose the interface might be further refined, and it's possible that Maps will finally gain the ability to present public transit directions for many cities without relying on third-party apps. That's the result of Apple's decision to acquire some companies that provide such data. After all is said and done, however, some of Apple's critics are still stuck in 2012 and believe Maps was once and forever fatally flawed, not realizing that a lot has changed since then.
But I wouldn't expect iOS 8 to run in an iPhone 4. That ship has sailed.
Now when it comes to OS 10.10 — and I don't expect Apple would consider moving to OS 11 at this point — one of the more persistent rumors suggests that Ive's team is busy fabricating a flatter look and feel. I suppose the Mac users who complained about the "lickable" Aqua look of the first versions of OS X will scream loudly about the alleged iOSification.
But is it necessarily a bad idea?
That the resemblance between the two operating systems will grow doesn't mean that it will necessarily work any different. It doesn't mean that the usability conventions with which you are familiar from 30 years of Macs will be thrown out the window. People new to the platform, who came to the Mac from an iPhone or an iPad, will, however, be in friendlier territory. But it'll still be a traditional personal computer OS designed to function efficiently with keyboard and mouse.
I wouldn't expect otherwise. Apple executives have made it perfectly clear that toaster ovens and refrigerators will not merge, and that they won't make the same mistakes Microsoft made with Windows 8. Don't forget that the latest update to Windows 8.1 continues the process of rolling back a few of serious changes, though it's still mess.
Apple wouldn't make that mistake. Interface changes to OS X will no doubt be skin deep, very much as the changes in iOS 7 by and large didn't seriously alter the way you interacted with your iPhone or your iPad. It would be more about consistent branding, and OS X could use a little of that after 13 years of sometimes erratic change.
Since Apple promises 200 new or enhanced features with an OS X upgrade, you can expect something more than just flatter icons and windows. Perhaps Apple will consider looking into components that have long been due for fixes. First and foremost is Mail, which didn't get much love in OS X Mavericks, which resulted in various and sundry bugs with Gmail and other features.
Although the recent 10.9.2 update to Mail repaired a lot of what went wrong, I've since heard from readers who claim that it's still messed up.
On the other hand, most email clients are flawed in some fashion. For me and my needs, Mail continues to be the best of the breed. At the very least, flaws and all, it's quite usable and reasonably snappy. I cannot say the same for Microsoft's Outlook 2011 after several service packs. Maybe something good will appear in the expected Office 2014 for Mac release, which is now expected for later this year. It sure does seem that CEO Satya Nadella is showing renewed love for Apple's platform, especially since there will be lots of money to be made.
But one thing is certain about OS 10.10, which some are referring to by the code name "Syrah." It will arrive some time this fall and it will also be free of charge. That's a door that Apple is not likely to close.
APPLE AND NEW PRODUCT CATEGORIES
You expect to take Apple CEO Tim Cook at his word. He promised fixes to Apple's bug-ridden Maps app, and the fixes came. Within weeks, it became quite usable, and nowadays is truly a credible alternative to Google Maps, except for people who are living in 2012 and have forgotten that things really did change.
But one of the major criticisms made against Cook's regime is that all of the product introductions have been essentially iterative. The iPhone is faster, with more features, but still an iPhone. The iPad Air is thin and light, but still an iPad through and through.
All right, there is the Mac Pro, but it's a reimagining of an existing product, the traditional PC minitower, rather than a whole new hardware category.
Do you see where I'm heading?
So as the year progresses, the pressure on Apple only rises. So what are those promised new product categories and when are the products and services that represent those categories going to be announced?
If there is going to be an iWatch in our future, when will it be launched? Since there is no existing product where a premature announcement will collapse sales of existing models, it's always possible the launch will come several months before the actual release date. This would give developers time to build apps for the new platform, so this may be one of the surprises to come at June's WWDC.
Yes, it'll be a consumer gadget, but Apple knows that having thousands of iWatch apps out of the starting gate on the day it's released will be an excellent way to boost the platform.
But what about the Apple TV? Well, however it changes with the next product refresh, you could hardly call that a new product category. Even if you'll be able to add game controllers, as you can do with the Amazon Fire box, it will still be an Apple TV. I do suppose Apple might announce it early if gaming is part of the picture, so developers can work on new titles, and I wouldn't be surprised to see one or two major game publishers present and accounted for at the WWDC to demonstrate their first releases.
I am far less convinced that there will be an actual Apple TV set. But licensing Apple TV to major TV makers would seem an interesting alternative. Just as Apple licenses technology to car makers, a new, say, Vizio TV set with Apple TV would be a compelling entrant. Sure, Roku is doing much the same thing with some low-end TV makers, but Apple would want to do more than just replace the smart TV features in a set. Apple would likely want to take over the entire interface, including the picture and sound setup screens. Such a set might also have to achieve a minimum set of requirements covering picture quality and configuration options before the manufacturer could embed an Apple TV.
That move would free Apple of the obligation to build their own set, but still allow them to dictate elements of the design. And don't think TV makers wouldn't be lining up to get first in line, because sales nowadays are down. They are struggling to find compelling new features to entice reluctant customers to upgrade. 3D didn't make it, and I expect that Ultra HD, affording twice the horizontal and twice the vertical resolution, will also be a hard sell since it takes a really large screen to see the improvement over today's 1080p.
If you include a service as a new product category, I suppose Apple could introduce their own subscription TV service. But the rumor mills have been filled with discussions of that sort for a while, and it's not at all certain that the recalcitrant TV networks would want to consent to Apple's usually stiff terms. What might really happen is that Apple might make deals with the cable and satellite providers to deliver their content through a specialized iOS-inspired interface. Think of TiVO as one example.
So imagine if the cable and satellite companies rented you a customized Apple TV to deliver their service. Maybe not a new product category, but still an interesting possibility, don't you think?
And then there are those occasional rumors that Apple might create an iTunes for Android, but the politics of that situation might be difficult to overcome. After all, Apple regards Android as a stolen product, so why would they embrace it? Well, Apple has made deals with Microsoft over the years, so it wouldn't be the first time. Do you remember when Apple sued Microsoft over the Windows interface?
But iTunes for another platform wouldn't represent a new product category, though I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of an iTunes optimized for Windows 8 and perhaps Windows Phone.
THE FINAL WORD
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