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  • Newsletter Issue #704

    May 27th, 2013

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    You know that a company will routinely exaggerate their benefits and the competition’s shortcomings in an ad campaign. That’s the way things are, but Microsoft must be desperate in their latest attempt to give Windows 8 tablets relevance.

    As some of you discovered, a recent ad comparing the 9.7-inch iPad with a 10.1-inch Windows 8 competitor went way overboard. So how does Microsoft make the latter seem better? By exaggerating the difference in screen sizes. The iPad uses a 4:3 or standard aspect radio; the Windows 8 tablet and many others use widescreens. When placed horizontally, the iPad is deeper, so Microsoft simply reduced the difference, which exaggerated the minor difference in width. It made the iPad seem a lot smaller when, in fact, the iPad still has more screen real estate.

    Now I presume Microsoft expected people not to pay attention, which, of course, they did, and called them out on this blatant attempt at ad fakery. Microsoft also makes a huge deal over the fact that a Windows 8 tablet (both the RT and regular version) is shipping with PowerPoint. The iPad doesn’t have PowerPoint, but if you must have a presentation app that reads PowerPoint files, there’s always Keynote, which is available for OS X and iOS.

    The long and short of it is that Windows 8 tablets have gone nowhere, simply because Microsoft believes they must be essentially identical to a regular PC. People who bought an iPad, or an Android tablet for that matter — and that means just about the entire existing market — have decided otherwise. But Microsoft will continue chasing at windmills.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we discussed the Google I/O non-event, the U.S. Senate’s failed attempt to grill Tim Cook and other Apple executives about the taxes the company pays and doesn’t pay, Microsoft’s deceptive new ads that unfairly compare Windows 8 tablets with the iPad, the media’s Apple disconnect, and the products Apple is most likely to introduce later this year.

    Our guests this week included Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, and Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris are joined by investigative journalist Leslie Kean, author of “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record,” and retired Air Force Colonel Charles Halt, one of the key figures in the 1980 Randlesham UFO case in the UK. Both are scheduled to speak at 2013 Symposium on Official and Scientific Investigations of UAP (UFOs). We also ask questions posted by our forum members.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! 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.

    ARE YOU READY FOR BLACK, WHITE AND FLAT ALL OVER?

    If you can believe the latest spate of Apple rumors, genius designer Jonathan Ive has decreed that drop shadows, gradients, shiny icons and other multi-dimensional effects in the iOS must vanish. It is henceforth minimalist, which also means those controversial skeuomorphic effects, such as the stitching effect in Calendar, will be history. Consistency rules!

    This is the sort of story that, if it’s not true, will have a short shelf life. Apple will unveil the specifics about iOS 7 and OS 10.9 at the forthcoming WWDC conference in San Francisco, with the keynote set for June 10. But it’s also true that Apple has been known to carefully leak information about new products to some members of the press, for how else would they get things right on occasion?

    While it’s possible some Apple employees are passing on this information, such things are done to their peril. If caught, they will be summarily fired by Apple, with a huge blot on their resumes. They might even have to change their identities in order to find employment elsewhere, but don’t take that seriously.

    So what’s really going on here? Has the public told Apple they are no longer happy with the look and feel of their operating systems? Or have Apple’s product designers decided that this is change we can believe in?

    Understand that Apple may survey customers about what they like and dislike, but customers didn’t design the iPod, the iPhone or the iPad. Of course, customers probably didn’t design Windows 8 either, I would hope, or Microsoft totally misread their intentions.

    But removing fancy special effects is, as my friend Daniel Eran Dilger observes in an editorial for AppleInsider, not the be all and end all. Huge interface changes have not, for example, benefitted Microsoft, and Windows Vista and Windows 8 are prime offenders. Smoothing the excesses of the iOS is just the first step, and I don’t think Apple is just going to make things look different, for what would be the advantage of that? It’s just artwork, and it wouldn’t necessarily change the functionality.

    I would hope and expect, then, that Apple would consider the facelift just part of the picture, and focus more on making things more consistent, making things easier to use. It makes no sense to confuse customers, even if the interface looks great.

    There’s certainly plenty of room for changes. As I’ve said in the past, some settings in the iOS are more complicated than they should be. You shouldn’t have to tap through multiple settings panels to, for example, switch Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on or off. But I don’t think Apple should choose the Android way, which puts them in the Notification Center and makes it all-too-easy to turn something off by mistake, merely by placing the unit in a pocket or purse, and removing it again.

    In his article, Daniel mentions some features that ought to be fleshed out, such as adding the ability to scan and record the text of a business card and inserting the data automatically into Contacts. Yes, there are third-party solutions for OCR tasks, but there are things that Apple needs to do directly.

    There are also features that are in need of a fix, and I wouldn’t presume to present all the solutions. I am not, for example, enamored of the way you cut, copy and paste. Any feature that requires repetition, trial and error, is not well implemented. The way I’ve seen it done with some Android keyboards is to place an icon bar below the status bar, where you can manipulate selected text with a tap. I suppose that’s one possible and reasonably workable solution.

    Apple might also take a large look at the way multitasking is handled. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 offers a multiple windows feature, but doing that on a smartphone doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, supporting that feature on the iPad and iPad mini is a must. If Apple assumes that we can use those gadgets for productive work, rather than just consume content, they should make it easy to run multiple apps and app windows side by side. You could certainly do that on the tiny screens of the original Macs and PowerBooks, so why not add that capability to the iPad?

    Yes, such a scheme would require careful resource management, and a smart way to suspend the document window you’re not using, but I fully expect Apple’s brilliant software engineers to work out a solution that preserves battery life, and doesn’t slow the system down. That’s an area where iOS is already way better than Android.

    The wish lists can be long, and I could go on for a number of columns about the changes I’d like to see. But this close to the WWDC, iOS 7’s feature set is already cemented, and the best thing to do is see what Apple has devised. If those changes and improvements aren’t satisfactory, we could always ask for additional changes in iOS 8.

    In the end, though, I’m not so concerned about whether an icon appears with or without a drop shadow. That’s the least of what makes a great mobile OS. I’m sure Apple knows that, and it may require a leap of faith to believe that iOS 7 will be filled with useful features, and not just fluff. But I do expect that those 100 to 200 new features won’t be just about looks.

    THEY KNOW WHAT I BUY

    The CBS-TV procedural drama, “Person of Interest,” depicts a world in which there’s an all-knowing computer that occasionally spits out information about a person in potential trouble, either because they will be victims of a crime, or will perpetrate a crime. The theme is that the U.S. government knows just about everything we do, and maybe that’s not far from the truth.

    When I watch that show, which was created by producer/screenwriter Jonathan Nolan (director Christopher Nolan’s brother), I occasionally wonder just how close to the mark he might be. What do they know about me and should I care?

    Take the Google banner ads I put on my various sites. Yes, it produces a little extra income each month, but it’s fascinating how it seems to target ads that precisely reflect the items I’ve either purchased or considered via an online search. Sure, I understand that Google monitors the cookies on your computer, but I am using Microsoft’s Bing as the default search engine. That’s true even on the Galaxy S4 smartphone Samsung sent me for review. Yes, you can choose Bing for your search engine there too, and I’m not, to my knowledge, running Bing-sourced ads on my sites.

    But where do I buy stuff online? Well, Amazon for one, but sometimes I’ll check out other sites for different merchandise, even for our dog, Teddy Bear, a year-and-a-half old Bichon Frise that we adopted from a rescue agency earlier this year. Whether I buy something or not, all of a sudden I’ll see similar products promoted in the Google ads on my site.

    Now I do use other Google products and services, and they surely have access to enough information, say, from Mrs. Steinberg, who continues to use Google as the search engine on her iPad, to determine what targeted ads to display. She doesn’t mind, however, so I haven’t opted to make any changes, at least not yet.

    Now as a practical matter, search engines access your computer’s cookies, desktop or mobile, to get the information they need to serve up the right selection of ads. You can disable cookies, but they are also helpful in tracking your visits to sites where you may want to do business. That way you can see the products and services that you might actually want to take advantage of.

    A simple way to stop most of those unwanted ads is to use your browsers option to block cookies from “third parties and advertisers,” which is how a Privacy setting that accomplishes that task is labeled in Safari. Yet another way to opt-out of targeted ads is to pay a visit to the Network Advertising Initiative, where you can, in a single act, have your browser’s cookies modified to block access by a number of ad networks, which include Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! It takes just a moment to do, and has to be repeated for each browser you use. Obviously, you can’t block ad networks this way if they don’t subscribe to that service, but the reputable ones do. But if you ever delete the cookies from a browser, you have to run through the steps again.

    This doesn’t mean that you won’t see ads, but the services that present these ads won’t follow your online behavior anymore. This single step ought to be sufficient for most of you. Indeed, after running the service’s Opt-Out tool, I quickly noticed that the Google ads served on my sites no longer had anything to do with the sites I had visited.

    However, any online transaction you make will still be recorded by someone, somewhere. There’s no place to hide unless you stay offline and stop using credit cards even at a brick and mortar retailer. Short of staying off the grid, however, you can run but you cannot hide.

    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 #704”

    1. dfs says:

      Personally speaking, I’m a democracy fan, and this whole question of interface design, i. m. h. o., shows Apple at its ugliest. Why should the look of the Finder and the suite of various Apple apps that come along with the current version of OSX exclusively reflect the take on skeuomorphism and personal tastes of a single Apple executive? Why not give me, the individual user, a say in the matter? Why shouldn’t OSX come with a selection of themes, just as it comes with a selection of desktops and screensavers? Why can’t Safari (and perhaps some other apps in the OSX suite too) be engineered to accept third-party themes, in the manner of Chrome? Apple is getting worse about this, too. In Mountain Lion, the Appearance panel has been removed from Safari’s Preferences, so that I am compelled to read web pages in a font and font size pre-selected for me by somebody in Cupertino, whereas in previous versions I was able to make that choice for myself. This at least ought to be a major public relations issue for Apple. People, after all, don’t like being bossed around. My basic feeling here is that I paid for my Mac, I paid for my monitor, and I paid for my copy of OSX. If I own all this stuff, why shouldn’t I be entitled to make the experience of using it my own too? Why can’t I have the look I myself want rather than what Scott Forstall, Jony Ives, or whoever else is currently occupying Apple’s Human Interface chair, dictates that I have to use?

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