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  • Newsletter Issue #668

    September 17th, 2012

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I am quite sure most of you never heard of the BeOS. But had things turned out differently back in 1996, that fledgling operating system might have become the face of the Mac OS. At the time, Apple was in a pickle. Efforts to update the aging Mac OS had failed, so Apple's executives made what turned out to be a momentous decision, and that was to acquire one from elsewhere.

    After flirting with Be Inc., run by former Apple Executive Jean Louis Gassée, Apple balked at the price. Gassée wanted $200 millon for the BeOS, but Apple was only offering $125 million. Curiously, when Apple bought NeXT, which brought company founder Steve Jobs back to Apple, they ended up paying $429 million, but it was an investment that ultimately paid off. Apple's resurrection was only partly accomplished with a new OS. It took Jobs to put the broken pieces back together and make it all work.

    The BeOS, although hailed for performance, snazzy looks, and reliability, subsequently called on hard times. Be Inc. went bankrupt a few years later, and the OS was open sourced. But from the ashes of BeOS emerged Haiku.

    So, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we introduce Michael Phipps, founder of the Haiku project, an effort to develop a new open source operating system that's inspired by the BeOS of the 1990s. After over a decade of development, Haiku may actually reach final release in 2013, but you'll hear more about it on our show.

    You'll also hear from Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," who describes some of the promised features of the forthcoming iTunes upgrade and whether they will, so to speak, make the grade.

    Cutting-edge commentator of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, is on board to refute what he regards as unfounded criticisms of the iPhone 5. This is one subject that I'll comment about further in the next article.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author and Paracast guest co-host Nick Redfern for a return visit. During this discussion, Nick will detail his own investigation into reports of possible UFO crashes in 1953 in Kingman, AZ, and a recent article he wrote for Mysterious Universe magazine, entitled 'The Future of Ufology."

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt -- Now with New Design! 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, along with a redesigned storefront.

    APPLE DERANGEMENT SYNDROME IS IN FULL FORCE

    With the iPhone 5, Apple fulfilled most of the hopes and dreams of fans of the company by most any standard. It is at the same time larger, lighter and thinner, and that's the sort of contradiction that required careful attention to the design details to achieve. It is also predictably faster, and has most of the features most anyone might care about, such as support for LTE networks, faster performance, speedier Wi-Fi, better quality photos and movies and, perhaps, the hope for better cellular audio.

    Despite the unfortunate fact that most of the other LTE smartphones out there are heavier, and have shorter battery life, Apple used the most advanced chips on the market to achieve greater power efficiencies. There are surely complicated manufacturing processes involved, even if you don't take Apple's claims about diamond-like precision seriously.

    Some innovative technological solutions made the iPhone 5 thinner and lighter, such as an in-cell display, which combines the touch screen with the LCD display. In a move that was typically controversial, Apple ditched the 30-pin dock connector and went with a smaller and more resilient Lightning port, which is yet another proprietary connector.

    But having special connection ports is nothing new for Apple. Consider 2003, when the original dock connector debuted. That it lasted this long is probably unusual for Apple, and I understand the pain in having to deal with incompatible accessories, and the fact that the adapter plug, at $29, doesn't support Video and iPod out. This will create problems for some, and it may not be fair to expect people to rush out to buy new accessories. But manufacturers wouldn't mind.

    On the other hand, Apple didn't switch to Lightning to sell adapter plugs. They may feel they have sound engineering reasons for the decision, such as being able to build a smaller port, not to mention the reliability of making it reversible. You don't have to hunt for the proper direction with which to insert the plug, and don't tell me there hasn't been damage as a result.

    I realize some expected -- or hoped -- that Apple would move to mini-USB, which is even more difficult to use. I've seen more than one of those ports break because of someone trying to force the cable in the wrong direction. Apple is also expected to add more features over time that extend beyond USB's sync and charging capabilities. You can also expect Lightning to stay alive for a few years at least.

    In saying that, though, I'd still like to see Apple offer free adapter plugs for iPhone 5 early adopters, at the very least. But the supposed agonies, such as they are, will soon pass. There is no "adaptergate" scandal and it's not as if Apple is the only tech company on the planet with a proprietary connection scheme.

    Another complaint is the nature of the iPhone 5's LTE support. Apple's chip and antenna scheme causes a problem for customers of CDMA systems, such as Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Since audio is still on the CDMA band, you cannot have a simultaneous voice/data connection, which is the same problem that existed with previous iPhones. Smartphones with less efficient dual-chip designs don't appear to suffer from this limitation. I suppose the CDMA carriers would solve it by moving voice to the LTE band. Meantime, that shortcoming doesn't appear to have seriously hurt sales of previous iPhones, and the iPhone 5 probably won't suffer either.

    Some tech pundits are also complaining about the lack of NFC support. NFC (short for near field communication) is a technology for short distance radio communications in smartphones. It would allow you to tap to make a purchase wirelessly on your credit card, for example, instead of just swiping the card.

    Apple appears to believe that the Passport software built into iOS 6 is more efficient and more compatible, since it uses tried and true bar code technology. Although NFC has been available for a while in Android smartphones, it is said to be troublesome. This all goes with Apple's stance that new technologies aren't going to be added to their gear until those technologies are proven in the marketplace to be reliable and widely compatible. So perhaps NFC will happen some day, or maybe it won't. Apple wasn't first with 3G or LTE either, as you recall.

    I mean, if you expect an Apple product to immediately embrace a new technology simply because it exists, prepare to be disappointed. Sometimes Apple does get a leg up, as with Retina displays and, in fact, Thunderbolt. But not always.

    Another criticism about the iPhone 5 is that Android phones -- and even the Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphones -- have larger screens. But just making a screen larger may be the wrong choice. Those who have had hands-on with the iPhone 5 say it's no less convenient to use than the 3.5-inch version. The impact to existing iOS apps, a small degree of letterboxing, isn't a deal breaker. Most of the key apps will be updated soon, as it appears the developer tools to enable proper scaling aren't hard to manage.

    Sure, some may suggest adding another iPhone display size will cause fragmentation. But, compared to the wild west situation with Android, it's a walk in the park.

    There may be legitimate reasons to criticize the iPhone 5. But saying it's not changed enough, and may be lacking a few features offered by the competition, isn't sufficient. Besides, full reviews haven't even been published yet. Existing stories are all about brief hands-on experiences with Apple people on hand. Let's see how the product fares when the media and regular customers have lived with it for a while.

    MAC HARDWARE FOLLIES

    As some of you readers know, my son's Black MacBook, circa 2008, has been one troublesome beast. My son, Grayson, took it with him to his new home in Madrid, and has traveled with it to several countries and back. To be brief, he hasn't had much peace. Apple, or an Apple authorized repair station, have replaced keyboards, batteries, at least one logic board, two LCD displays, the Web cam component and other parts. It hasn't been fun.

    Last year, for example, the original LCD failed just weeks after the AppleCare extended warranty had expired. Grayson was understandably frustrated, so I asked Apple support to escalate the matter to a higher up. Once they had a chance to examine the MacBook's dreadful repair record, they agreed to replace the LCD.

    However, the problem recurred a couple of months ago. This time, the unit was taken, at Apple's recommendation, to an Apple Store. A resident "Genius" noticed that a thin white wire was hanging out at one end of the case, perhaps the fault of faulty reassembly by the previous repair person. He suggested this might have caused the return of the LCD problem, or maybe not. After some back and forths, Apple was amenable to one more "exception" (I hate it when they use that word), and agreed to replace the LCD yet again for no cost. This time, they also replaced the keyboard, and, as I mentioned above, the Web cam.

    The next day, Grayson rented a DVD, which soon became stuck in the optical drive. A return visit to the Genius Bar, and the disc was removed, with the caution that Grayson not try to use that drive again, because it might be broken. I protested to Apple support. He'd used the optical drive just weeks before to burn a CD. There were no problems then, and the episode occurred after the MacBook was disassembled for repair. But Apple was adamant. There will also be no more repair exceptions, so Grayson has opted to become accustomed to living without an optical drive until he can afford a new MacBook.

    Now the other day I had yet another encounter with Apple repair when I attempted to fix a client's 2011 27-inch iMac. This was a loaded model, with the optional 3.4GHz Intel i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and the dual 1TB hard drive/256MB SSD option.

    When applications began to suddenly quit, even after restarts, I attempted to reinstall the OS the client was using, Snow Leopard. He couldn't upgrade to Lion or Mountain Lion because his work requires a PowerPC app. The OS install failed in peculiar ways. Once, there was the message that the installation couldn't continue. On a second occasion, the iMac returned to the gray screen and shut itself off. All so peculiar.

    Typical of this dual drive setup, the OS and apps are on the SSD. Most document files and Time Machine backups are on the 1TB mechanical drive. Confident of a safe backup, I reformatted the SSD and tried to install OS 10.6 again, but I encountered the same failures.

    Since the client had AppleCare, I had several conversations with Apple support people before they decided to replace the SSD. I suggested there might really be a RAM problem, because the hardware test kept aborting at the start of the memory test. Since the iMac is somewhat heavy, and the client is partially disabled, Apple was only too happy to send a repair person to his home.

    The final verdict is in: The SSD was fine, but two of the four 4GB RAM chips were defective. But it's not Apple's way to send all the potential parts for an in-house or in-office visit. Instead, the SSD was replaced on the first visit, and, with two RAM chips removed, the iMac survived an OS reinstall and a restore from Time Machine. There are a few glitches that will probably require some minor configuration changes.

    But that will be done after the repair person returns with the replacement RAM.

    In the end, I am pleased Apple was able to respond reasonably promptly to the repair request, and that it was done at the client's home. However, the peculiar symptoms  I observed, in my opinion, did appear to point to a RAM problem. Yes, RAM replacement is easy, although I understand Apple's desire to have their service people perform the operation, so they'll be fully responsible for the results.

    I wasn't happy with the decision to replace a perfectly good SSD first. It cost Apple two service visits, and forced the client to deal with a slightly crippled iMac until the new RAM is installed.

    I am glad, however, that he wasn't forced to schlep the iMac to an Apple Store. If he'd been using a Mac portable instead, I doubt Apple would have been so flexible.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #668”

    1. dfs says:

      It may be worth quoting from David Pogue's New York Times review of the iPhone:

      "So far, so good. But now, the third point, about universal compatibility. These days, that decade-old iPhone/iPad/iPod charging connector is everywhere: cars, clocks, speakers, docks, even medical devices. But the new iPhone won’t fit any of them. Apple calls its replacement the Lightning connector. It’s much sturdier than the old jack, and much smaller — 0.31 inch wide instead of 0.83. And there’s no right side up — you can insert it either way. It clicks satisfyingly into place, yet you can remove it easily. It’s the very model of a modern major connector. Well, great. But it doesn’t fit any existing accessories, docks or chargers. Apple sells an adapter plug for $30 (or $40 with an eight-inch cable “tail”). If you have a few accessories, you could easily pay $150 in adapters for a $200 phone. That’s not just a slap in the face to loyal customers — it’s a jab in the eye. Even with the adapter, not all accessories work with the Lightning, and not all the features of the old connector are available; for example, you can’t send the iPhone’s video out to a TV cable. Apple says that a change was inevitable — that old connector, after 10 years, desperately needed an update. Still, Apple has just given away one of its greatest competitive advantages...It’s just too bad about that connector change. Doesn’t Apple worry about losing customer loyalty and sales?"

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on September 19th, 2012 at 2:42 AM:

      @dfs, For better or worse, Apple made a calculation that requires the new connector, and it's probably not just miniaturization. I've seen reports of third-party versions that are less than $20, so maybe they are correct on the long haul.

      Peace,
      Gene

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