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  • Newsletter Issue #679

    December 3rd, 2012

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    After a month's delay to rejigger parts of the app, Apple released iTunes 11 this week. Rather than go into the major new features, and some standbys are no longer there, such as cover flow, there was one notable interface change that presages what might turn up in OS 10.9.

    One of the most significant areas in which the critics have dinged Apple's latest interface flourishes is the use of gray sidebar icons. Both the OS X Finder and iTunes have been plagued by this peculiar design choice. Some third party utilities, such as SideEffects, have helped restore a modicum of sanity -- and color icons to the Finder sidebar.

    Well, the revised sidebar in iTunes 11 has color icons once again. While it's far from the most important improvement, it does appear to indicate that Apple is really listening to customers. Unfortunately, the arrival of iTunes 11 has not improved the ongoing issues with iTunes Match and iCloud that I won't bore you by mentioning here. But I remain ever optimistic.

    Now on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focus on Amazon's possible deception in advertising the Kindle Paperwhite eBook reader, Apple and the professional market, the executive musical chairs at Apple and Microsoft, iTunes Match -- the second year, and we bring you a first look at iTunes 11, which offers a new look and the promise of better performance.

    You'll hear from Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy" and Peter Cohen, from the "Angry Mac Bastards" radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author/researcher David Paulides, author of the provocative book, "Missing 411-Western United States & Canada: Unexplained Disappearances of North Americans that have never been solved." David's work has shed much-needed light on the hidden subject of inexplicable disappearances in the Western United States and Canadian Provinces. In addition, cryptozoologist JC Johnson will join us and discuss the breaking story about the pending claim of the scientific discovery of a hybrid DNA from a study of alleged "bigfoot" biological samples.

    Special Sci-Fi Update! Last month, our second sci-fi novel, "Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors" was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, "Attack of the Rockoids." Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It's available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author PMH Atwater, who has engaged in an extensive study, spanning four decades, of near-death experiences. The discussion will include her three near-death experiences dating back to the 1970s, how her life changed as a result. We'll also cover some of her books, including "Near-Death Experiences, The Rest of the Story," and "The Big Book of Near Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die."

    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 CONTINUES TO GIVE REPAIR PEOPLE NIGHTMARES

    I am not one of those Baby Boomers who longs for the good old days. All right, I don't use an iPad all that often, but I spend plenty of time with my iPhone, and not for talking to people. I really don't use a phone all that much anyway. I also do not expect to disassemble appliances, though I had a taste for building radios and assembling audio gear way back when.

    But when it comes to a personal computer, I do tend to prefer the way it was done with such classic Macs as the IIci, back in the early 1990s. In those days, it was a snap to pop the cover, and not much work to replace key internal parts. You could do most parts replacements without special tools.

    However, Apple has long had a penchant for making Macs impossibly user hostile. I remember the original Quadra 800, for example, which required you to remove the logic board and several delicate cable assemblies before you could swap out RAM. With the original iMac, you had to pull it apart to get at the memory slots, although the process was fairly straightforward.

    One generation of the flat panel iMac actually organized internal parts into removable modules, making it super simple for most of you to replace key components,  but it all went downhill from there. Consider the 2009 iMac revision, where big magnets held the glass in place, and disassembly, while not difficult, required time and careful attention to detail.

    Well, the teardowns for the 2012 iMac have been released, and you can begin to see the serious concessions Apple made to form over function. Sure, it's nice to have a super slim bezel. It looks great, and Apple will no doubt sell loads of them, as soon as production matches demand. But if you want to take the thing apart, you'll find that the glass and LCD are now glued to the frame of the iMac. iFixit says the adhesive is "incredibly strong," which means it's best to stay away.

    While installing extra RAM on the new 27-inch iMac appears to be a relatively simple process, involving popping a bottom cover held by three screws, don't think about replacing the hard drive, which requires removal of the logic board. Unfortunately, you cannot upgrade RAM on the 21.5-inch model, no doubt another reason why iFixit gave it a repairability score of 3 out of 10, compared to 7 out of 10 last year.

    By the way, there is also a YouTube video showing someone getting his fingers cut while trying to perform a RAM installation on an iMac. But there are YouTube videos that show all sorts of things. Having not tried it myself, I'll just urge you to just be careful.

    Unfortunately, the 2012 iMac is but one more example of ignoring the interests of the customer in favor of offering a snazzy design at any cost. Apple wanted to make the product slim and light, but evidently failed to give much thought to serviceability. Or maybe they don't expect you to do anything but upgrade the RAM (and then only on the larger model), so might as well consider the rest a closed box unless you need service. Then you leave it up to your friendly neighborhood Apple Genius to take care of it for you.

    Now it's actually possible to upgrade RAM on the smaller iMac, if you follow some of the online instructions that depict a full teardown of the unit, but it's not a process for the faint of heart. Best to order it from your dealer in the configuration you want.

    When it comes to a Mac notebook, they've seldom been really easy to service, but recent models have made battery replacements more difficult than ever. On the MacBook Air, RAM is soldered to the logic board for unspecified reasons. It's the appliance mentality, and hardly different than the attitude of Steve Jobs towards the ability to service the original compact Mac back in 1984. Look, but don't pop the cover.

    The reasoning behind this user unfriendly approach, other than saving space, remains unfathomable. I do not expect Apple to provide an answer that makes any sense. Well, at least they made it simple to upgrade RAM on the Mac mini. Once Apple moved past the original form factor and made it resemble an AirPort Extreme, you could actually get at the RAM slots without perfecting your putty knife technique. I suppose that's progress, but don't expect to ever be able to pop open an iPhone or an iPad for battery or component replacements. That's asking too much.

    Now perhaps the real concern is how Apple will treat the promised upgrade to the professional model, the Mac Pro, in 2013. I expect substantial efforts at miniaturization, and a smaller, lighter design would be welcome. But professional users still want easy replacement of RAM, PCI cards and hard drives. Imagine the negative reaction to the release of Final Cut Pro X, and magnify that by ten if the 2013 Mac Pro, or a successor product, is difficult to open and configure the way you want, when you want. I hope Apple doesn't make that mistake.

    MORE BAD NEWS FOR MICROSOFT

    So Microsoft is boasting that some 40 million Windows 8 licenses were sold during the first four weeks on sale. If true, it would indicate sales similar to Windows 7 levels back in 2009, which would be a great achievement, considering all the negatives being expressed about the sea change OS upgrade.

    Yes, I believe Microsoft is giving you accurate figures, but you have to check the fine print. You see, that 40 million figure evidently includes licenses sold to OEMs, the companies that build PCs. It doesn't mean that there are 40 million Windows 8 users, or 40 million computers using the OS. It may well be that millions of those licenses have yet to be installed on specific PCs, or that those PCs have actually been shipped to dealers or distributors, let alone real users.

    To Microsoft, it may not matter so much. A sale is a sale, and most sales are made to OEMs anyway. But since falling PC sales may indicate fewer reorders, things can go downhill really fast. The true trend of Windows 8 probably won't be obvious until the holiday season is over, but that won't stop industry analysis firms such as NPD Group from reporting ongoing sales at retailers, and things don't look so hot so far.

    When it comes to Windows 8 tablet sales, there's hardly a blip, even though all sorts of touch-based convertible notebooks are being shown in TV ads. There are published reports that Microsoft cut orders for the Surface tablet from four million to two million. But even if two million are built this season, that doesn't actually prove how many are going to be sold.

    Yes, I'm sure that some people are buying a Surface. Perhaps some people even like them, and they are surely entitled to their preferences. But it has yet to be demonstrated that all that expensive and noisy advertising has actually moved much product into the homes of end users. Right now, it appears the Surface might be largely a curiosity, and it's the sort of curiosity that people might casually observe, and just move elsewhere.

    While slow uptake of a new product may not be significant in many industries that play long ball, it can be a fatal blow in the fast-moving tech sector. Amid the rush of new products, if any model doesn't catch on almost right away, it's apt to be supplanted by something else very quickly.

    With the mostly unexpected release of a fourth generation iPad, even Apple may have come to realize that they may not be able to depend on annual release cycles any more. This doesn't necessarily mean that the iPhone 5s or iPhone 6 will arrive by the spring of 2013. Apple has barely caught up with demand for the existing model, so there's no rush. But with the iPad, more and more competitors are coming out of the woodwork, and Apple may have to move that much faster to keep ahead of the pack.

    So I wouldn't be surprised to see a slimmed down full-sized iPad this spring, along with an iPad mini with a Retina display. As for Microsoft, even if the Surface tanks, and that's what the tea leaves indicate right now, there will likely be a successor model next year. Now maybe Windows 9 won't be rushed to completion, because Microsoft never moves that fast. But it's always possible for a rushed release of a major Windows 8 service pack to fix critical interface issues, and perhaps even deliver a Start menu to the interface formerly known as Metro.

    If traditionally conservative Honda can rush out a significantly upgraded Civic compact car in a matter of a year and a few months because of tepid response from Consumer Reports and car magazines, no doubt Microsoft's OS team, with proper guidance from management (which is by no means certain), can make critical changes to Windows 8 in a fairly short period of time. But don't take that possibility to the bank.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #679”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      Is the function of a personal computer really to be easily taken apart and put back together? Most people use them for Facebook, word processing, games and the like. Apple is catering to those people rather than those who like to fuss around under the hood. I haven't had to pop open the hood on my Mac for nearly a decade now. Apple has made a more reliable product, and they've cut manufacturing costs. It's part of the maturation process.

      For example, this happened with cars in the mid-1970s. It became increasingly difficult to work on the engine. On the other hand, cars became increasingly reliable and now go for tens of thousands of miles without tune ups or spark plug changes. This isn't all that different from what happened to stoves, television sets, home furnaces and a host of other popular gadgets.

      There will always be a handful of people who like to tinker. They'll pop a bootleg ROM into their engine and go tearing down Queens Boulevard at 2AM or build a garage door, television, video camera hybrid. Their choices are getting more limited. Apple offers the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, and for now, there are lots of tinker friendly PCs, but even these are being challenged by Ultrabooks and mother boards with soldered on processors. It's a brave new world.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 3rd, 2012 at 5:44 PM:

      @Kaleberg, A common upgrade is RAM. Maybe you are on a budget, and don't have enough to get all you want when you buy your Mac. But if it's a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with Retina display, you're really stuck. With the new 21.5-inch iMac, you have to do a teardown. While I understand Apple's penchant for saving space, this is a throwback to the very first Macs, which couldn't be upgraded either. That is not a step forward.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Dan says:

      Might I suggest avoiding the 'Genius' Bar altogether and going to your local Mac-authorized repair center for upgrades/repairs? Anecdotally, I've had nothing but issues trying to take care of repairs or recalls at the Apple Store, whereas the repair center does the work you want with no questions asked- they're happy to bill Apple for the work, whereas the Apple Store will find any way possible to say something isn't covered.

      Another plus is that they can do the work in-store and turn it around in days faster than Apple who has to ship off a machine to Texas or some other repair center. The 'Geniuses' are loath to open an Apple box (no surprise there) so good luck getting a visual diagnosis of internals.

      I see this 3rd-party store/service center concept growing back as these boxes become more closed and the Apple Store boutiques lack in-house repair staff.

      Gene, I hear ya on the frustration of lack of ability for DIY repairs and upgrades. I saw the trend and invested a little more in a Mac Pro just so I could do such things and increase the years of usefulness of one machine rather than having to upgrade to entire new one for minor performance increases.

      While I'd be very hesitant to swap out processors or logic boards, OWC offers sales of entire new processor trays so you can even upgrade the brains of your Mac Pro:
      http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/turnkey/MacPro
      Hopefully, Apple will hold to this form factor for a while longer so the people at OWC can continue to offer easy processor upgrades of current spec processors.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 8th, 2012 at 10:17 AM:

      @Dan, Understand that there may not be a local Mac-authorized repair center in many cities, so you are stuck with finding an Apple Store or shipping the product you want to repair.

      There are a handful of independents in the Phoenix area. Or perhaps Best Buy, but I'd choose Apple over Best Buy any day.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

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