Sometimes fast-moving events overshadow prevailing situations. So it's clear to most people who have used Apple's Maps for iOS 6 that there are serious flaws. Some of you may have even taken Tim Cook's advice and put Google Maps on your Home screen, or downloaded someone else's navigation app. You aren't stuck.
Certainly, we covered the subject extensively on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, starting with Adam Engst from TidBITS and Take Control Books, who spoke at length about the Mapgate fiasco, along with his ideas about how Apple should price OS X, and how that price may impact app sales.
Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," tells of his trials and tribulations in using Maps for iOS 6 to travel near his home in France. He also reported on his problems with Apple's EarPods, their newly designed earphone. Seems he's not happy with the bass reproduction, although enhanced bass is one of the features touted by Apple.
Since that episode was recorded, Kirk sent me a link to Apple's mapping data for his home, although I'm not really able to evaluate the accuracy. Kirk's problem is more with the interface anyway. He prefers the previous version of Maps, powered by Google.
At the same time, it has been reported that Apple has already begun to make some of the promised changes to Maps. A few of the more controversial 3D viewing errors, such as the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge, are now accurate. However, there are still glitches, one of which I reported to Apple. For example, unless phrased precisely, Maps cannot locate 13 East 30th Street, an address in midtown Manhattan, several blocks from the Empire State Building. You'd think that, for example "13 e 30th st, new york, ny" would be sufficient. I'm curious about the place, because I worked there for a number of years for two different companies.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Richard Sarradet, the "quiet researcher," who will discuss his interactions with the late UFO abductee and researcher Dr. Karla Turner and her husband, the hypnotist she relied on, Barbara Bartholic, and some of the material she published, especially her first book, "Into the Fringe." Alternate UFO theories and other paranormal phenomena are also on the agenda.
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.
One thing that's certain with the current Mapgate controversy, and that is that the media never seems to tire of speculating what Steve Jobs would have done had he survived. This conversation seems to fill most every discussion about what Apple is up to, and what they've done. It's particularly prominent when there's a perceived failure.
Did I say failure?
Well, some say that Apple made a huge mistake with the iPhone 5. Maybe it lacked a few features that you'll find on other smartphones, and maybe it's all about having a subpar mapping application. Supposedly an accurate mapping service is a key feature of a mobile OS, and woe be the company that cannot deliver a credible navigation app.
One particularly silly article for a certain mainstream newspaper of record suggested that Apple unnecessarily inconvenienced iOS 6 users (over 100 million strong and then some) by deciding to say "you're fired" to Google. Seems that the writer, who doesn't deserve the link for the usual reasons, assumed that Apple was essentially forcing you to use their own mapping app, implying behavior similar to the shenanigans Microsoft pulled when they won the browser wars against Netscape some years ago, which attracted an antitrust lawsuit in the process.
That claim came even after Tim Cook listed some mapping apps, both free and paid, which iOS 6 users could download if they wanted to try something else. He even mentioned that you could go online and use mapping services from, yes, Google and even Nokia. So where's the lock-in?
This skepticism plays to the meme that Steve Jobs would never have approved the still-beta Siri voice recognition system, the decision to replace Google Maps, and the all-too-conservative approach to redesigning the iPhone. It all started with the iPhone 4s, which wasn't different enough. Even the iPhone 5 is said to be a "safe" refresh.
What the skeptics forget is that Jobs, in his final years, no doubt approved a number of ongoing product plans. He also promised to go "thermonuclear" against Google because he believed they stole the iOS interface when they created Android. Dumping Google Maps clearly follows that strategy. And don't forget that Google reportedly wouldn't give Apple turn-by-turn navigation, even though it was available for Android. Should Apple just sit by and take it?
Even as we speak, Maps has begun to get better. How long it will take before most of the worst ills are resolved is still not certain, but it clearly demonstrates that Apple is working hard to get past the early bugs and make the product far more usable. It does appear to be part of the version one-point-zero syndrome, although the viral nature of the early criticisms clearly caught Apple off-guard.
The larger question, though, is whether Apple should be asking "What would Steve do" for every strategic move, and that's clearly the wrong approach. Consider the problems the Disney company encountered after founder Walt Disney died. Rather than look ahead and use their own skills to deal with corporate strategy, they looked backward. It took years for Disney to right itself.
It is widely reported that Jobs, knowing time was short, did everything he could to embed his DNA in the company, and train his team to keep the focus on the future. It wasn't his thing to ever look back. But Apple is under a huge media microscope, so everything they do will be compared to what some believe Jobs might have done had he survived. Maybe the legendary Jobs reality distortion field still clouds the minds of the critics into believing Apple didn't make mistakes, and if they do now, it's because Tim Cook failed to enforce the vision of the co-founder.
It's a sure thing that Apple cannot continue to grow with high double-digit increases every single quarter. The rate of expansion will inevitably begin to level off, and you also have to wonder how many new product initiatives Apple might explore. For quite some time, there were rumors that Apple was poised to introduce a connected TV set, or perhaps a souped up Apple TV set top box that would truly supplant traditional cable and satellite TV. But that hasn't happened, and it's by no means certain where Apple's hobby will go. Those rumors seem to have been overwhelmed by all this talk of an iPad mini.
Indeed, perhaps many wonder if Jobs would have approved a smaller iPad, after throwing cold water on the very idea. But it isn't the first time Apple changed direction, or simply misled the press. Don't forget that Apple executives pooh-poohed the idea of a cheap Mac just weeks before the Mac mini was introduced.
To be sure, Apple will succeed best, it seems, by never looking backward, and that means not wondering what Steve Jobs would think. They have to continue to take risks, despite the odds.
Here in the U.S., the arrival of a new TV season and football consumes our leisure time. All right, I stopped being a huge sports fan when I was still a child, but that's another story. Regardless, I've had a chance to sample a few shows, and there's promise among the retreads for some intriguing entertainment.
One of the highly-touted shows is "Revolution," one of those post-apocalyptic concepts where the world is thrust back into the middle ages when all electricity suddenly dies. One day, cars stop running, planes crash, the lights turn off, and the iPhone never rings again. Yes, there is liberal product placement of an iPhone in this series.
Though replete with flashbacks, most of the action takes place 15 years after the tragic event. In addition to playing the great game of survival, complete with sword fights aplenty, the protagonists struggle to figure out just why the power shut down and how to turn it back on. This is the overarching conspiracy, as it appears some sort of tiny object is, for a brief period of time, able to activate electric power.
The problem with these serialized dramas is keeping audience interest high enough to keep the show going for a few years, before there's an inevitable conclusion to the great mystery. If the series is cancelled prematurely, the story never concludes, in a sense wasting the time you have invested in watching all those episodes. Knowing premature cancellation is near, the producers might rush an ending that will seldom satisfy the audience. Take the reinvented alien invasion series, "V," as a prime example. The final episode was, to put it mildly, just plain incoherent, and I won't say more.
In "Revolution's" favor is the fact that ratings have remained high, and the network, NBC, has ordered a full season of episodes. So there is promise, if the producers and writers can keep the action going in a way that retains a large audience for several years.
When it comes to more traditional TV fare, there's "Vegas," which takes you back to the 1960s, where rancher Ralph Lamb (Dennis Quaid), becomes sheriff and takes on criminal casino owner Vincent Savino (Michael Chiklis). In passing, there's a semblance of reality to the series, since Ralph Lamb is a real person who served as sheriff of Las Vegas from 1961 to 1979. At age 85, Lamb serves as a consultant to the series.
Watching two veteran actors chew the scenery is highly entertaining, though, as you might imagine, the series skews towards a somewhat older demographic, which is not always helpful when selling ads at the highest possible rates. Networks look at those numbers, in addition to the total audience, when deciding whether to keep a series in production.
Another series with promise is "Last Resort," where the crew of a ballistic missile submarine suddenly finds itself pursued by their own country when the captain, portrayed by Andre Braugher, a great character actor, refuses orders to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan. So we have the curious situation where the crew of the now-crippled submarine is at war with their own country. The series implies a whole range of curious conspiracy theories, and the concept may be too outlandish to sustain itself. But it's at least watchable.
There's a lot more, but I'll only cover some highlights that interest me.
So we have "Once Upon a Time," the modern-day reinvention of traditional fairy tale characters, keeping the action going for a second season. "Grimm," a police procedural fantasy, also continues to hold a decent audience with its collection of weird creatures and strange twists and turns.
Unfortunately, the sic-fi drama, "Fringe," may have jumped the shark. Ratings are low for the final 13-episode run, and it appears the characters are stuck in yet another future post-apocalyptic world, where a curious race of "Men In Black" style characters, the Watchers, have taken control of the planet. It's the job of the rebels to take the world back. This is a curious departure from the traditional story line about people with strange abilities and alternate universes, though I suppose both concepts may somehow be resurrected as the show continues. Maybe we'll even see the return of the one-and-only Leonard Nimoy as mad scientist William Bell.
At least "Fringe" will not suffer premature cancellation. There will be a real ending, say the producers, and I hope it's a satisfying one, having invested so much time in this show.
All right, it's just series TV. But it's nice to have a little respite from the real world nowadays.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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