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  • Newsletter Issue #709

    July 1st, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    There's an old joke, where someone says they aren't paranoid, but they know people are out to get them. Regardless, I sometimes wonder if the people running Apple Inc. are inclined to feel at least a little paranoid because it seems that the tech media, and so-called financial pundits, are out to get them.

    Certainly, the quality of some of the criticisms seems especially low. It's not a matter of having a particular opinion, but the lack of respect for facts. You have to wonder how these pundits can make so many obvious mistakes, or just engage in speculation that doesn't make any sense. Even a Google or Bing search can often set them straight.

    There's also a remarkable inconsistency to some of these criticisms, such as holding Apple responsible for something, but not criticizing another company for the same alleged shortcomings. So we have claims that Apple can no longer innovate, but what about Samsung?

    Of course it comes down to this: Apple clearly has a lot on their plate for this fall, and new mobile and desktop operating systems and rethinking the Mac Pro may be only a part of what we'll see. Once everything is released and ready for download and sale, it'll be easier to see if Apple's choices were appropriate, or they could have done better.

    Now on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, commentator Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, discussed the decision of Barnes & Noble to stop building Nook tablets, the crazy rise and fall of Apple's stock, and the double-standard tech and Wall Street analysts apply whenever they cover Apple Inc.

    Veteran tech author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus admitted defeat because OS 10.9 didn't use the code name "Bobcat," not made seriously of course. He also gave you his early reaction to OS X Mavericks, and to the promise of the next Mac Pro, Apple's tubular workstation, which is expected to be released some time this fall.

    On the security front, Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo.com, talked up his company's "anonymous" search engine, which respects your privacy and doesn't track your search requests.

    Tech journalist  Rob Pegoraro, who writes a weekly column for USA Today, reviewed Republic Wireless, a prepaid cellular service that switches between Wi-Fi and a traditional wireless network to offer unlimited text, voice and data for $19 per month. He also covered efforts by tech companies to push back against NSA surveillance and FISA gag orders, and the prospects for the next TV standard, 4K, or Ultra HD, to succeed in a highly saturated market.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Kevin D. Randle, who  returns to The Paracast to discuss his appearance before the recent Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, and his recent book, "Alien Mysteries, Conspiracies and Cover-Ups." This wide-ranging interview will cover the latest news about the Roswell "Dream Team" investigation, why theories about Ancient Astronauts may be the result of misinterpreting the original cases, and ongoing research into cattle mutilations.

    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.

    THE MAVERICKS REPORT: 200 NEW FEATURES?

    Apple is great about setting expectations. So recent OS X releases have each had over 200 new features. Why not 150? Why not 300? Well, evidently 200 sends the appropriate marketing message, although the numbers might be fudged just a little bit.

    Certainly, if you look at the full feature sets of Lion and Mountain Lion, they do exceed 200, sometimes by a decent margin. But there are features and there are features, such as adding something to the menu bar, or an extra command that may or may not be useful. So in Mountain Lion, for example, Apple added the awkward Command-Shift-Option-S keyboard shortcut for Save As. Some might have preferred that Apple return to Command-Shift-S. In addition, the Share button and Share sheets, although they are merely variations on a theme, count as separate features.

    However, there are also 15 features specifically designed for Mac users in China. So does that mean that rest of the world only got 185 new features? No, because there were a couple of dozen extra features in the list that gave Apple plenty of breathing room. So the phrase "more than" was quite correct, even if some of the ones included were, at best, minor enhancements. Apple doesn't rate the worth of each new feature.

    So I do expect that, when the entire feature set of Mavericks is released, it will indeed total more than 200. I also expect that Apple will cheat just a little bit to exceed that number, since that's par for the course. But it does seem as if Mavericks does lots of really good things; it's not just a minor feature update as some would pretend, even though OS 10.9 doesn't look altogether different in most respects when compared to OS 10.8.

    I am, for example, encouraged about the possibilities of iCloud Keychain to ease the process of creating, storing and accessing secure passwords across your Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Apple also boasts that the passwords are protected by AES 256-bit encryption (yes yet another feature). There's also a password generator that eases the process of coming up with a secure password. You no longer have to rely on the name of a household pet, however unique it might appear to be.

    I'm not a current user of multiple displays; one is sufficient for my needs, but the initial reaction across the blogosphere to the Mavericks version is mostly positive. Apple has paid close attention to the needs of the power user here. You wonder why it wasn't done before. Or maybe the OS X engineering team was enamored of linen.

    Perhaps the most visible difference is the Finder, which continues to get good and bad ratings depending on your needs. But it's not as if Finder Tabs seems especially unique. You just wonder why it took so long for Apple to get around to adding that function. If it works as fluidly as Apple's claims, routine file management will be simplified. However, I also wonder how long Mac users will have to continue to manage files and folders in the much same way they did in the 1980s, and when something better is going to come along. The Mavericks Finder is still merely getting an iterative change, adding features for which there were already third-party solutions. But what about a dual pane view, being able to manage your files side by side without opening a separate Finder window, as you can with Cocoatech's Path Finder?

    In finding ways to enhance the Finder, you think, in part, that Apple might be choosing the low hanging fruit, and if it works well, you'll see more in 10.9's successor next year. Or maybe a totally new approach. After all, the Finder is not getting any younger.

    Overall, however, Mavericks strikes me as an upgrade that's very much about adding new functions, but not changing the look and feel very much. Skeuomorphism appears to be history, not that it mattered much in the scheme of things if an app resembled the real life counterpart. But flat is in, so there you go.

    I've also read some of the preliminary tests of the Mavericks Developer Preview online, and it does appear that there are genuine performance improvements and useful power efficiencies, just as Apple promises. So battery life on a Mac notebook will be somewhat longer, although any benchmarks published so far are preliminary. It only matters what you see in the final version.

    I also wonder whether Apple will just go ahead and make Mavericks a free upgrade. Based on the beta version, it appears Mavericks will run on the same Macs as Mountain Lion, and if there aren't many problems with existing apps, this may be a fairly seamless upgrade. But all Apple says is that it will be available for download this fall; download, not for sale. I wonder if that's a distinction with a difference.

    SO WHO NEEDS 3D TV ANYWAY?

    The entertainment and consumer electronics industries are notorious for jumping on trends that may promise commercial success, but don't always fare so well in the real world. So when James Cameron's "Avatar," released in 2009, became a huge hit, 3D was in. It had languished over the years with occasional releases, but few paid attention. This time you had a 3D blockbuster that demonstrated to one and all that you didn't need irritating ping-pong effects to create a compelling experience. You just had to make it real.

    So Hollywood decided to invest in 3D, sometimes filming a new motion picture from scratch using that format, sometimes adding it during the post production process. Movie theater owners rejoiced, because they had yet another way to increase the ticket price for those who loved spending two hours in a dark room with glasses, assuming they didn't wear them already.

    With a saturated market for high definition TV, you can bet the consumer electronics companies were falling over one another in the rush to add 3D to high-end TV sets. There were two schemes: One used inexpensive "passive" glasses, essentially the same as the ones you get at the local multiplex. Others put some of the decoding circuitry in the glasses, making them "active" and expensive. At first, you had to pay up to $150 for a pair. Not all sets came with them standard, or if they did, certainly not enough for a family of more than two. 3D sets were strictly high-end affairs.

    But the rush to embrace 3D really didn't happen. Sure, the cable and satellite providers added a smattering of 3D content, and 3D was  added to the Blu-ray format, and the new players didn't cost a whole lot more than the older ones. Indeed, if you have purchased a new Blu-ray player recently, it's probably 3D capable unless you have a really old model.

    When consumers didn't rush to embrace 3D sets, manufacturers figured out ways to make them cheaper. Only the low-end sets are without 3D nowadays, but it doesn't mean that we are all busily consuming 3D content, what little there is of it. Sure you can buy a 3D movie if you care to pay $10 or more extra for the Blu-ray version. Yes, movie-goers are flocking to the 3D versions of a movie, particularly when the extra dimensional content is added tastefully. But it's not as if that experience is necessarily suited to one's home, particularly with a larger family where the limits in a TV's viewing angle are apt to cause problems.

    Some people in the industry believed that 3D would come into its own with sporting events. The ESPN 3D sports channel was launched on June 11, 2010. Some content delivery services, such as Comcast, DirecTV, and Time Warner Cable, were happy to sign up. But ratings remained low. AT&T's U-Verse gave up on ESPN 3D a year later, claiming high costs and low demand.

    Just recently, it was announced that ESPN 3D, which is mostly owned by Disney, would shut down by the end of the year because of "limited viewer adoption of 3D services." The straw that broke the camel's back? I'm not sure, because TV makers aren't giving up on the format. With tens of millions of units being built, the cost of the added electronics is not very high, and thus 3D is yet another useless feature to tout on a bullet point list.

    Now I have to tell you that I do not know anyone who actually owns a TV set with 3D capability, or perhaps the sets have that feature, but people usually don't notice, or care. That 55-inch Vizio E551D-AO that I've had for extended testing is passive 3D capable. It comes with a pair of glasses, and Vizio sent along one 3D Blu-ray, a cartoon, to demonstrate the set's capabilities.

    My opinion? Unless you're viewing the picture at an angle, if the 3D encoding process is handled properly, the effect is quite striking. Unlike some sets, you don't see a noticeable dimming of the picture either with glasses on. I watched that cartoon for a while, and called my wife over to see what she thought. "That's nice," she remarked before she walked away to play with our dog.

    However, I won't say home 3D is dead. Manufacturers are working on schemes to deliver the same effects without the need for glasses. That, and supporting a decently wide viewing angle, might make the difference. But the age of 3D, outside of movie theaters, just isn't here yet.

    And don't get me started about 4K (Ultra HD) TV.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #709”

    1. Sponge says:

      In regards to Mavericks, it seems to me that Apple may be responding to complaints that Lion and Mtn Lion focused too much on bringing various iOS features to OS X and not enough on features for "power-users" who use their Macs for hours on end, day in and day out. These people (and I humbly claim to be among them) have little use for things like Launchpad, immediately opted out of "natural" scrolling, and dismissed full screen apps as useless when they realized that it turned their additional monitors into grey linen walls with no functionality. It was clear that Apple was appealing to consumers, especially those with an iOS device, so that OS X would feel more familiar to them. About the only thing you could say in favor of some of these changes was that Apple didn't force any of it on you; power-users didn't have to change the way they worked.

      But Mavericks seems different. No one but power-users are going to use Finder tabs. The same holds true for tags I suspect; consumers will just use Spotlight or just scroll through hundreds of files till they find what they were looking for. And multiple monitor support both with full screen apps and with Spaces is likely to be appreciated mostly by pros. So I think Apple is starting to think about these people and their needs once more, perhaps in anticipation of a time a few years hence when consumers are all using iOS and pros (or power users, or whatever) are the ones still using the Mac OS. The unveiling of the new Mac Pro would also seem to support this.

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