This is a subject that's really hard to escape. Although no product of this sort exists, the media can't stop talking about it. Nor can Apple, since Steve Jobs raised it the interviews with his biographer, Walter Isaacson, and his replacement as Apple CEO mentioned it in recent interviews for NBC and Bloomberg.
Obviously, I'm referring to whether Apple really and truly plans to build a smart TV set in our lifetime. Certainly if the media designed Apple gear, the answer would be yes. If Apple based product decisions on customer anticipation alone, once again, it would seem that they had no choice. But Apple doesn't operate that way.
So, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we discuss all those rumors that Apple is planning to build a smart TV set, perhaps in 2013. You'll also hear more discussions about the problems and the benefits of iTunes 11.
In addition, Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, joins us with his 2012 best/worst list. You might be able to guess what the magazine concludes was number one on the list of the worst tech failures. He'll also list some of the best laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Although Avram is not necessarily a devoted Apple fan in any respect, it's also true that the list of the best computers included Apple MacBooks, the list of the best tablets included the current iPads, and the list of the best smartphones included the iPhone 5. So even though it's the analyst meme these days to again state that Apple is in deep trouble all over again, the facts don't seem to bear this out.
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 staunch skeptic Lance Moody, who has, for a number of years, provided a solid reality check on what he regards as fanciful claims about possible paranormal events. During this session, Lance will talk about his research, his revelations about possible deception, and why he doesn't believe in such things as ghosts and UFOs.
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.
So let's look at the situation realistically. PC sales are down, but Mac sales appear to be flat, or maybe they'll increase slightly, despite the lack of availability of new iMacs. iPhone 5 sales appear to be moving at a good clip, and Apple may sell as many iPad minis as the full-sized model. If pundit predictions are correct, Apple will even start selling a smart TV set in 2013, but don't take that to the bank.
Considering the shaky state of the economy. Apple appears to be in really good shape. Revenue for this quarter may still be up considerably over last year, and prospects for 2013 continue to be promising. But there are clearly clouds on the horizon -- or maybe not.
Amid reports that Apple had begun to cut back orders from suppliers, Apple's stock, which had already been falling steadily, nose-dived to levels not seen since early this year. It's almost as if Wall Street has hoped and dreamed for Apple to fail big time, and the slightest signs of potential failure were enough to push the stock over the cliff.
I don't presume to be able to judge the Wall Street mindset, but it's clear that even an unfounded rumor may cause people to sell, or buy, without any objective evidence that the rumor has any basis in fact. You even wonder if some less-than-scrupulous people will spread such rumors to benefit their own bottom line. It doesn't matter if someone else's investments are wiped out because of falling stock prices. Greed, as that guy in a certain movie once said, is good.
Certainly I am not going to guess how Apple will ultimately fare this holiday season, let alone the first part of 2013, even though, as I said, things do look quite promising. But cutting down on component orders would make sense regardless, since the holiday season is almost over, and sales for the March quarter are bound to be less. Nothing unusual about that. So maybe a seasonal trend is being magnified beyond all reason without any real factual basis to assume something is wrong at One Infinite Loop.
This doesn't mean there aren't some problems for Apple this quarter. Clearly demand for the iPad mini is higher than anticipated, which is why there's still a one week backorder situation at Apple's online store. That means that lots of people will have to look elsewhere to fulfill their needs, live without, buy a fourth generation full-sized iPad, or choose someone else's tablet.
At the same time, iPhone 5 production has apparently matched demand, so as Apple's iconic smartphone spreads to more countries, there's no need to wait for the version you want. With Macs, however, there's still a delay in getting a 21.5-inch iMac, and don't expect to receive the 27-inch model until January. But that was to be expected, and the fact that desktops consume only 20% of Mac sales these days means that the totals may not be impacted all that much. Apple still won't count preorders as a sale; the product has to go to the customer to record a sale.
But this doesn't mean everything's coming up roses for Apple. There's still lingering outrage over the problems with Maps for iOS 6. Yes, Tim Cook fired the guilty executives, after making a public apology. Yes, Apple is supposedly working hard to fix the problems, but when the authorities in Australia warned citizens that a Maps location error could leave people stranded in a remote wilderness, there was plenty of negative publicity. But very few of those stories revealed that Apple not only quickly fixed the problem, but that it was caused by erroneous data from the Australian government. They also ignored the report that Google Maps users in another locale were warned by the authorities about the consequences of incorrect directions.
So Google Maps for iOS is out, and people are praising it to the skies. This despite the fact that the interface is a little screwy, particularly the process of engaging Street View, when Street View is possible, and that's not always the case. Although few reviews document the procedure, it requires touching and holding your finger on a map to bring up the address. Once invoked, tap that address or swipe upward from the screen's bottom to activate Street View.
Since this is a key differentiating factor in Google maps, you wonder why the process of using it is so non-intuitive. When it works, it's a wonderful feature. When it doesn't work, you're left with a blurry satellite view no better than the one Apple provides.
I also noticed that, in its current beta iteration, Google Maps sucks the battery life out of my iPhone 4s. The percentage display goes down really fast, particularly when turn-by-turn navigation is being used. In contrast, Apple Maps doesn't seem to harm battery life near as much.
Did I say beta? Yes, before I started on the first trip mapped by Google Maps, I had to first accept the beta warning, but I've yet to read a review where that critical fact is even mentioned. Curious indeed. The software also lacks the refined feel of Apple Maps, even if the database is, admittedly, more accurate, and, unlike Apple, provides direct support for public transit. However, in a climate where it's common to label Apple as bad and Google as good, how can you expect fairness?
In any case, Apple is at least giving you a choice. If you don't like their mapping app, go for Google, or Nokia, or AOL Mapquest, or any of the commercial navigation alternatives. Besides, nothing stops you from switching among apps as your needs change. And, despite someone's unfounded claim that iPhone 5 sales were impacted by Mapgate, there seems to be no real evidence any of that has happened.
Certainly the rich choice of mapping software on the iOS means that you can test them all, or decide, as many have, that depending on someone else's database and GPS to get you to the correct destination each and every time is a big mistake. There's one thing about printed maps: Assuming the information is correct, you always know that, absent unfavorable traffic conditions and construction issues, you'll be able to get to the right place every single time.
But none of that plays well with the media premise that Apple is in deep trouble.
When a TV movie from The Beatles, "Magical Mystery Tour," debuted in 1967 on the BBC, fans of the fab four were clearly disappointed. The nearly plotless production had the earmarks of a home movie with excesses, and much of made no sense. But it was also the showcase for six classic Beatles songs, including "The Fool on the Hill," and John Lennon's "I Am the Walrus," with its wacky and unforgettable lyrics. Goo goo g'joob. In passing, I always wondered how Lennon's mental state may have been chemically enhanced (or altered) when he wrote that tune.
I suppose the album, which featured some Beatles singles not committed to album form, such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" on the second side of the LP version, did well enough. But the film pretty much vanished without a trace after getting panned by critics and fans alike.
I actually got to see it on video tape a number of years later, and I remember the poor picture quality and the lack of a sensible plot beyond depicting a group of travelers taking a surrealistic bus trip to some unspecified location, the "mystery tour" of the title. However, the dream sequences and music videos clearly helped influence the structure of music videos years later.
Well, as with most things done by The Beatles, the digital experts set about restoring the sound and picture of "Magical Mystery Tour," which debuted on December 14 on PBS in the U.S. With most series fare on holiday hiatus, and little to watch, I decided to give it a second viewing.
Once again, it was clear the whole production was either improvised or poorly scripted, but that didn't matter. With no expectations whatever, Barbara and I found ourselves laughing hysterically at some of the antics, and I began to wonder whether Monty Python's Flying Circus might have taken a bit of inspiration from this film.
If you assume that the silly, psychedelic antics were largely fluff and filler for the presentations of classic Beatles songs, you might tolerate some of the indulgent excesses. As I said, I thought it was funny when it wasn't just a little boring and haphazard. Running at less than an hour, there are worse ways to spend your time. I'd take it over any reality TV show any time. But I'm not damning with faint praise. I really had a good time revisiting this curious production, and I bet you will too if you give it half a chance. And if you actually were around during the heyday of The Beatles and Beatlemania, you'll remember and you'll smile.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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