An iWatch? Was that a real story, or another rumor as accurate as the one that started the huge drop in Apple’s stock, that there was a big softening of demand for the iPhone 5? What about those alleged 100 engineers who are working on the project in Apple’s design studio?
Well that was just one of the topics dealt with this week on my radio show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, also delivered a detailed response to a penetrating probe of the problems with OS X from developer Lloyd Chambers, author of an article about what he perceives as “core rot” in OS X, featured on last week’s episode.
We also presented another compelling cutting-edge commentary from Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider. This week Daniel continued his ongoing penetrating analysis of the mobile platform wars, and also presented his reaction to Chambers’ article, and the ongoing iWatch speculation.
In the end, I suppose wearable computers might just catch on some day. Smart watches have a long history in sci-fi and comic books, but potential success also depends on whether it has a set of useful features that will attract enough paying customers to make sense. The existing smartwatches seem focused on serving as a peripheral to an existing gadget, which can put someone in the uncomfortable position of taking the watch and forgetting the smartphone. It happens. So what does the watch do by itself other than tell time? Doesn’t sound so smart to me.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris once again explore the huge numbers of ongoing paranormal events in Pennsylvania with investigator Stan Gordon, author of such books as “Really Mysterious Pennsylvania: UFOs, Bigfoot & Other Weird Encounters Casebook One.” During this episode, you’ll hear about reports of small spherical UFOs that are sometimes even seen flying in people’s homes.
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 first confirmed the existence of OS X Mountain Lion on February 16, 2012, offering a preview of some of the more compelling features. After a more extensive demonstration at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference on June 11, Mountain Lion became available for download on July 25, precisely on schedule, for $19.99.
So if Apple is really planning on annual OS X upgrades, it would make sense to see the first glimmers of an OS 10.9 feature set this coming week. But that assumes Apple is really keeping to that schedule, and that there are enough finished features to warrant such a presentation.
It’s not as if Apple would consider holding a special media event for a Mac OS upgrade. There will probably be one for the next generation Mac Pro, though it might just be a part of the agenda at the next WWDC. That would appear to make sense, since a professional Mac workstation would be well suited to the developer community.
When it comes to OS X, I expect that Apple is already busy cleaning up the inconsistencies in the user interface. But it’s also true that Jonathan Ive only got the job of heading up Apple’s human interface department a few months ago. Does he have enough time to really make an impact, or was that move in the wings for a while?
I also think about a certain lame article that blamed Ive for current OS X problems, not realizing he was just the hardware designer until recently. In any case, the prevailing speculation has it that Ive’s minimalist sensibilities would result in removing the excesses, such as the leather stitching effect in Calendar. After all, why should a digital calendar resemble a physical calendar anyway? How many of you even care?
The real issue may be how Apple plans to clean up the OS going forward. Supposedly Snow Leopard was the real fix-up release, offering few visible features, but lots of changes in the plumbing, all intended to create a platform that would enhance OS X going forward. Or maybe not, if you consider the recent article from Lloyd Chambers about all those deep-seated problems. Assuming he is mostly correct, Apple has long-term festering problems that have yet to be dealt with, and that’s not a good sign for the future of the Mac, if the OS becomes more and more unstable over time.
However, under-the-hood improvements aren’t so easy to describe to consumers who might hope for attractive visible changes instead. I suppose, though, that it would make for a few paragraphs at the bottom of a promotional piece, and create lots of meat and potatoes for developers to chew over.
Also, it’s never a bad time to talk about interface consistency. In Lion and Mountain Lion, for example, Apple opted to hide the user level Library folder by default. That’s the place that stores preferences and other files that are rarely touched in the normal course of things. Perhaps the OS X team decided that you didn’t need to go there unless you had reason to troubleshoot, in which case you can optionally display Library or use a Terminal hack. But there’s also a Library and a System folder on the top or root level of the drive. There are loads of critical files there that can cause mischief if you remove them, but at least you have to enter an admin user password first.
Well, the first crop of rumors about OS 10.9 deal with the low-hanging fruit, such as adding support for Siri and Maps. Of course, there’s already a Dictation feature in Mountain Lion, and having Siri pop up there too would be a neat idea for some, though I hardly think it makes much sense for people to be talking to their Macs in an office situation.
With Maps, I would assume that, with the introduction of iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, the worst problems will be history, so Apple could relaunch the service in a way that reassures the skeptics. But that assumes Apple has made enough progress to deal with most critical issues. Remember, too, that Google warns you about using their navigation app on first launch even on an Android smartphone or tablet, so this is an area best dealt with carefully. If Google, considered the best at this game, can’t make perfect mapping software, what should we expect from Apple?
The real question, though, is how Apple will devise 100 or 200 improvements, and whether it’ll be mostly about adding more iOS eye candy, or delivering improvements that really make a difference. What about the state of the Finder, which remains erratic and flaky despite nine major OS X releases? Aside form probably restoring color icons to the sidebar, how does Apple deal with the centerpiece of the Mac user experience?
Or will Apple work further to bury your interaction with the file system? This would take it more into iOS territory, where there’s no interaction whatever, but that move may just be going too far. But it’s also true that most Mac users are probably more interested in getting to their stuff as easily as possible, rather than the nuts and bolts of the process. So maybe Apple could fork the Finder into two modes. The standard mode, reminiscent of a Simple Finder of old, and an Advanced version for those who like to keep things the way they are. Then again, offering multiple user options of this sort might be taking you more into traditional Windows territory, and that’s not such a good thing.
Speaking of revisions, isn’t it about time for Apple to update iWork? The last major release of Apple’s office suite occurred nearly four years ago. The iOS version has become more robust, more feature-laden, so what does Apple plan for an encore on the Mac? Or will there be an encore? And what about iLife?
I wrote last week’s issue thoroughly immersed in the process of trying to adapt to an Android smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy S III, after spending several years with an iPhone as a constant companion. On the surface, the two look alike, which explains why Apple has been busy suing Samsung in various jurisdictions around the world. They are designed to basically function in similar ways, so it should be possible to configure the S3 to closely match the iPhone experience.
The S3’s core apps are definitely not as refined, however. Android Email, for example, is clunky and awkward. The interface seems thrown together and lacks the polish of Apple Mail for iOS. There is actually an Android App, InoMail, which is designed to mimic much of the form and function of Apple Mail, but it’s a mixed bag.
When it works, InoMail truly delivers an iOS-like experience. But it’s buggy, and the developer isn’t been responsive about dealing with problems, even to paying customers. The InoMail Facebook page, for example, has a posting that states, “Don’t bother posting questions. He does not respond.”
Over the past 10 days, I’ve tried several Android email apps and most have fatal or annoying flaws of one sort or another. One highly regarded app, K-9 Mail, won’t display a new message unless you tap twice or tap and hold, which is clearly a bug. But with so many positive reviews posted, maybe this is a very targeted problem that only afflicts some users. You sometimes feel as if you’re in the wild west, back in the 19th century, where it’s everyone for themselves.
Part of the problem is the platform’s fragmentation. The vast majority of Android handset and tablet owners aren’t even running the latest and greatest OS, which is Jelly Bean 4.2.2. The S3 I’m using, configured for AT&T, has Android 4.1.1, with no indication when or if the carrier or handset maker will push a newer release. With a Galaxy S4 rumored in the coming weeks, it may well be that there will be no more OS upgrades, except, perhaps, to fix a critical malware vulnerability.
In addition, there are so many different models, it’s difficult for developers to optimize their apps to work efficiently. That, more than anything else, may explain the various and sundry problems I’ve encountered. I cannot even use the network’s apps for my two radio shows, which display an endless “buffering” message when I try to play a show. But GCN tells me they are working hard to fix the problem, which apparently occurred recently after an Android update.
For the most part, however, it is possible to get an Android smartphone to do its thing acceptably, just as you can make a Windows PC do the job. You will probably have to spend a fair amount of time testing the waters in the options panels. There are extensive options, and choosing Settings may open you up to making loads of choices that aren’t always clearly explained. It’s not a matter of just working, but working after you finish building the Erector set.
In saying that, the S3 is actually pretty decent overall, which explains why it has become the second most popular mobile handset on the planet. The screen is sharp and bright, although it doesn’t fare so well in sunlit surroundings, where an iPhone is far better. But there’s something about a large smartphone display that has its attractions, and I’m willing to bet there’s a bigger iPhone in Apple’s test labs. That extra screen real estate is really useful for almost everything you do on a mobile handset, and the S3 is compact enough to fit into my pocket without lots of pushing and tugging. But forget about single-handed operation. The S3’s display is much taller than the iPhone 5, and it shows.
Aside from the lack of good email software, I’ve managed to duplicate most iPhone tasks on the S3. The default browser, Internet, is second best, but there’s a genuine version of Chrome to be had, and it syncs pretty well with the Mac and PC versions.
But what about printing from an Android phone? That’s another story for another article.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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