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  • Newsletter Issue #708

    June 24th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So what do you expect from a $199 tablet. Well, when the Google Nexus 7 came out last year, reviewers regarded it as a miracle, more or less. They extolled its fairly presentable form factor, and its performance. They even marveled over Google's curious decision to sell a product for essentially what it costs to make, which was clearly a forced attempt to expand the platform at the expense of profits.

    As we know, Google does make money, but it comes from targeted ads, not from the sale of hardware. Even the Motorola Mobility, for which Google paid $12.5 billion, is not a proven profit maker.

    Worse, it appears that owners of the Nexus 7 are encountering all sorts of problems, as we discussed on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, continued his discussions about the iOS, Android, Windows Phone platform wars with an emphasis on the unexpected defects discovered in Google's Nexus 7 tablet and why customers aren't interested in paying for Android software. He also covered some of Apple's WWDC announcements, such as the forthcoming cylindrical Mac Pro.

    On the security front, you heard from online privacy advocate Mark Weinstein, founder of Sgrouples.com, who offered the frightening news about what social networks, and the government, may know about your online activities and how to protect your privacy.

    Tech journalist Dann Berg discussed his recent article for Laptop magazine describing "Eight Tools for Online Privacy." He also gave you his reactions to key WWDC announcements from Apple, such as the Mac Pro, iOS 7, and OS X Mavericks. Hint: He's not so keen about the new naming scheme for OS X.

    Now one way to enhance your privacy is to stay away from the popular such engines normally offered in a browser, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! (which is powered by Bing). Both Weinstein and Berg suggested DuckDuckGo, an "anonymous" search engine, one that claims not to track users. It's also available as a Safari extension for your Mac, and you can add it to iOS, but only if your device is jailbroken, something I can't officially recommend.

    Yes, DuckDuckGo has ads, but it doesn't seem that they are specifically targeted to one's use of the search engine. But the real issue, aside from improved online privacy, is how well it works. It's well designed and all, but I can't say yet if the results are equal or superior to what you'd get from a search in Google or Bing. There are also "do not track" options in browsers, which is yet another way to keep your comings and goings a little more private.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present "conscious media" producer Ron James, of Ivolve TV. Chris and Ron have worked together since 2005 creating honest, real media that examines the paranormal in an honest, unvarnished fashion. This episode will focus on upcoming media projects on the paranormal, along with the recent Citizens Hearing on Disclosure, where Ron served as the video producer.

    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.

    iOS 7 AND OS X MAVERICKS: THE APPLE HATERS STRIKE AGAIN

    Although the applause and cheering were quite loud during Apple's WWDC keynote when new versions of iOS and OS X were demonstrated, the media has not quite taken to either. I suppose Wall Street hasn't either, witness the continuing, if gradual, erosion of Apple's stock price.

    So what's wrong with Apple's OS upgrades that the reaction from the critics has been so tepid or outright critical? If you look at the feature changes, and compare them to what Microsoft and Google typically offer in a major OS upgrade, you'll find that Apple has done quite nicely, and it's not at all certain that we've seen the entire feature set. After all, both are promised for a fall release, which means there's plenty of time left to flesh out a few things.

    But as far as iOS 7 is concerned, the next iPhone, which some believe to be an iPhone 5s, will probably show up in September, so that's when the new iOS will appear. As to OS X Mavericks, maybe it will come out somewhat later, in time for the release of the Mac Pro. When will that happen? I'm expecting October, but I have no secret Apple information to offer.

    When it comes to Mavericks, the feature set so far appears somewhat spare on the surface. For Lion and Mountain Lion, Apple touted over 200 new features and enhancements. Sure, some of those new features barely qualified, but they nonetheless were included as part of the bill of materials.

    As of the time this column is being written, Apple lists 10 categories of new features for OS X Mavericks, each of which may contain a number of different items. So you already have several dozen. The under-the-hood stuff, collectively labeled Advanced Technologies, lists five categories of system enhancements designed to improve performance and power efficiency. So it's possible Mavericks will be one of those rare operating systems that actually makes a computer run better, and that's a rarity.

    Apple has also posted a white paper that lists all of the new and existing Core Technologies in Mavericks as of June, which means it might be expanded by fall with additional entries. However, I'm sure developers would rather that Apple leave well enough alone, so they can get moving on updating their apps without fear that things will keep on changing between now and release day.

    In all, it probably won't take a lot to turn the various lists, with some fleshing out and a few surprises, into the requisite 200. I suppose we'll find out as Mavericks comes closer to the release date, but it all looks promising, though some might have preferred a few interface changes to make everything resemble iOS 7. I wouldn't presume to guess whether that's really Apple's plan, or whether it will held off until OS X 10.10 Malibu Beach, or whatever Apple chooses to call it.

    Regardless, I'm sure that many critics will simply label Mavericks as a minor feature upgrade regardless of what Apple does.

    iOS 7 is already being regarded by some as all form but little substance. They look at the flattened icons, good or bad, the layering, transparency, and parallax effect and dismiss everything as simply borning. Some of the major new features were, they say, largely borrowed or outright stolen from other platforms, notably Android and Windows Phone. So where's Apple's innovation? I could point out, in passing, that Apple patented a number of OS features some years back that are now regarded as being borrowed from other platforms.

    But if you go through Apple's history, you'll see that they have often adopted features from other platforms, though they are often delivered in a more elegant fashion. Well, elegant if you accept Apple's approach.

    With iOS 7, Apple divides the key changes into nine categories, each of which, once again, may include a number of new features or enhancements. In addition to the apps, Apple is making a huge deal over the improvement in multitasking, which is extremely important. If you've used an Android smartphone or tablet for any length of time with more than a few apps, you'll learn quickly enough that switching from one to the other can readily cause the gadget to become very sluggish. You can restart, or use a system optimization utility, as I do, to manually quit unused apps. Or just quit each one separately, because things can get out of control really quick.

    Apple certainly knows multitasking, and smarter scheduling is designed to improve battery life and make your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch run longer, more efficiently. How will it work out in the real world? I suppose we'll know better once iOS 7 is released. I suppose reports from some of the beta testers might help if you understand that iOS 7 is still in beta and no doubt extremely buggy.

    At the end of the day, however, it appears Apple is making an honest effort to improve performance and efficiency for both OS X Mavericks and iOS 7. You might quibble with the design choices of the latter, but if everything works as it should, these two updates will be extremely significant.

    After all, is Google considering smarter multitasking for Android? What about Microsoft's Windows Phone? Does Windows 8 offer Compressed Memory, Timer Coalescing, App Nap? Sure I suppose Windows 8 is snappier than Windows 7, but is Microsoft considering their own alternatives to the sophisticated technologies Apple is using to give Mavericks a dose of virtual steroids?

    However, the proof is in the pudding, and the release versions of iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks will demonstrate whether Apple's promises will be fulfilled. If Apple fails, the critics will be right, but many of the online pundits who complain haven't even tried the developer previews, or studied Apple's feature list beyond a surface glance.

    A CHOICE: THE MACBOOK AIR AND THE iPAD

    So a friend contacted me asking what portable computing device he should buy. He sent me links to a fourth-generation iPad, and the newest MacBook Air. Obviously there are serious price differences, with the full-sized iPad starting at $499, although I'd probably recommend the $599 32GB version to my friend. The 2013 MacBook Air starts at $999. Price, alone, might be a key factor, although there are other issues to consider.

    My friend wants a portable computer that he can take with him on his weekly trips to a summer home -- at least he's lucky enough to have a summer home. In any case, his main computing activities these days are email and Internet surfing. The iPad would do just about as well, although he'd have to become accustomed to the virtual keyboard. He's an old-fashioned touch typist, quite used to a standard Mac keyboard, or the one on his aging iBook.

    For him the move to a MacBook Air would be relatively easy, migrating his stuff from his desktop computer, a mid-2011 Mac mini. In the past, I might have been reluctant to suggest the cheapest MacBook Air, as 64GB storage was a little slim for his needs. He has stuff going back to the 1990s. However, Apple has finally begun to take advantage of the declining prices of solid state storage, offering 128GB, standard, on the 2013 Air. Apple claims up to nine hours battery life on the Air, and up to 10 hours on the iPad. The difference, in the real world, probably isn't terribly significant.

    Now the final answer isn't one of price, data storage capability or even battery life. My friend has been using Macs since the late 1980s. He's not a power user by any means, but he's accustomed to doing things in a certain way, and objects strenuously when things change. Being forced to use a virtual keyboard, or setting up an iPad with an auxiliary keyboard, would  be an extremely clumsy solution for him.

    Weighed against the convenience of a smaller, lighter gadget and familiarity, I am recommending that he buy the MacBook Air. It's not a huge change from his old iBook. Since his travel computer will be placed in a single, comfortable location at his summer home, choosing smaller and lighter isn't a serious issue.

    More to the point, I will probably advise him to get a Thunderbolt adaptor cable so he can hook the thing up to the mini's display. That way, he'll have one computer that he can use anywhere, and the mini would serve as merely a backup in case the Air requires repair.

    When Apple went to 128GB SSD storage, standard, they made the MacBook Air far more suitable for all-around use. When OS X Mavericks arrives, it's even possible that battery life will increase noticeably, although the actual numbers won't be confirmed until the final version is available.

    In passing, it's interesting to note recent reports that indicate that the competing Windows computers, the so-called Intel Ultrabooks, are generally more expensive than a MacBook Air with similar configurations. I expect Apple is getting really favorable pricing on SSD. If you add a touchscreen to the PC, the price difference is even larger. The perception that Macs are premium priced is only true if you compare them to the entry-level junk that passes for a PC in Windows land. The PC makers, whose profits are a fraction of Apple's must be embarrassed.

    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #708”

    1. Peter says:

      Does Windows 8 offer Compressed Memory, Timer Coalescing, App Nap?

      Will Windows make applications that do important tasks in the background take longer?

      One of the things that concerns me a bit is that Apple was talking alot about "memory alerts" in apps. Now I look at my MacBook Pro with 32GB of memory and I think, is this really an issue?

      Maybe it is for Retina MacBook Pros that don't have upgradeable memory.

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    2. dfs says:

      To me the most striking feature of Maverick is that all the doom-criers (up to and including Ted Landau, in a recent column) have been proven wrong in their dire predictions that OS9 would be dumbed down for the benefit of newbies and iOS users. Nothing of the sort is going to happen. The other thing is that the User>Library>Mobile Documents folder, the best-kept secret of Mountain Lion (ANYTHING you put in this folder can be accessed from any other Mac logged onto the same iCloud account, exactly like a Dropbox folder) is coming out of the shadows, made more accessible, and hyped as a feature. About time, and people will see that iCloud is a far more flexible and valuable resource than Apple has told its customers.

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