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  • Newsletter Issue #715

    August 12th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    There's a published report, not confirmed as usual, claiming that Apple's Board of Directors is demanding that Tim Cook innovate faster. The story goes that Apple isn't delivering enough new product fast enough, and that's obviously a bad thing. What is being overlooked, other than proof such a concern exists of course, is that Apple has already announced a major revamp of the Mac Pro, and the iOS. While the Mavericks refresh doesn't seem as drastic, there are clearly loads of changes that aren't obvious at first glance. You have to peer below the surface.

    More to the point, the key refreshes of Apple's product lines are expected this fall, from the iPhone to the iPad, to more Mac hardware enhancements. There may even be the rumored lower-cost iPhone — I won't say cheap — which would offer a more compelling option for folks who want to save a little money rather than buy last year's model, or the one from the year before.

    What's more, at least one mainstream news outlet is already reporting that Apple will hold the iPhone event on Tuesday, September 10. If true, we don't have to wait much longer to get an Apple innovation fix.

    Now on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author and publisher Adam Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, updated his "Apple in the hot seat" discussion. First he recapped the basics of Apple's recent loss in a Federal eBook price-fixing trial, and then commented about the U.S. Department of Justice's draconian demands for remedies. He also discussed Apple's last-minute victory before the ITC, where President Obama vetoed a ruling that would have banned the sale of the iPhone 4 and some older iPads.

    From The Mac Observer, you heard from co-founder and co-publisher Bryan Chaffin. He'll also talked about the Apple eBook price-fixing trial, and the DOJ's demands, along with the veto of the ITC's import ban. He then covered the ongoing changes and what's improved as development of iOS 7 continues. And don't look now, but there was also a surprise visit from "The Fake Steve Ballmer."

    We also presented a segment about the next version of QuarkXPress, version 10, with Gavin Drake, VP of Marketing for Quark, Inc.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris play catch-up with Don Ecker, long-time UFO investigator and host of the Dark Matters radio show. During this session, Don will, as usual, pull no punches as he tells you about his long history in the field, along with his frank reactions to people and organizations, where he holds no prisoners. You'll also hear his responses to listener questions.

    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.

    WILL THE OS X MAVERICKS UPGRADE BE EASY?

    Apple hasn't made an official statement. But according to published reports about the developer betas of OS X Mavericks, it appears that any Mac that can run OS X Mountain Lion can be upgraded to the forthcoming OS release. What this means is that if you're using OS 10.8, you shouldn't have much to worry about, at least when it comes to your Mac hardware.

    If you never upgraded to Mountain Lion, you'll want to determine whether your Mac is compatible, if not, end of story. There's no sense reading further, unless a new Mac is on the horizon for you. In that case, it'll be compatible with Mavericks, and will be preloaded with the new OS within weeks of its release.

    In the old days of Mac OS and OS X installations, you had something called a clean install, that basically created a new system setup, but left the older stuff in a separate folder for you to check at your leisure. For better or worse, Apple has given up on that sort of thing. Supposedly it's not necessary except for extreme situations.

    So the simplest method would probably be to just start the installation, enter your password, OK the terms and conditions, and let the Mavericks installer do its thing. The vast majority of Mac users who upgrade will do precisely that, and not suffer from the experience. It should just work.

    But not always, and it's always a good idea to take a few important precautions along the way.

    One is to be careful of system enhancement utilities, particularly those that go deep and dirty to change core system features or do minor interface enhancements (or changes). With most of these apps, there is an option to turn everything back to OS X's default condition, and I'd recommend you do that before installing a major OS upgrade. Otherwise, nasty things might happen. You may also want to make sure these utilities are Mavericks compatible before you move ahead.

    Another precaution is to make sure you have a recent backup, a full backup. If something goes wrong, you may have to consider wiping your drive and starting over. Apple's Time Machine can restore your system to the condition it was in when the last backup occurred. Since the backup is, by default, updated hourly, you don't stand to lose very much. Of course, you do need another drive (or a network storage appliance, such as Apple's Time Capsule) for your backups. If you have a cloud-based backup, such as Carbonite or CrashPlan, you'll be able to restore your stuff, but it will require some manual labor to get there.

    If you haven't been doing regular backups, you may want to reconsider your strategy. Yes, just upgrading to Mavericks may not cause problems, but if your Mac has documents and other data that you cannot afford to lose, please don't take any chances.

    You'll also want to check with the publishers of your mission critical apps about Mavericks compatibility. That it may work just fine with the same Macs that support Mountain Lion doesn't mean some of Apple's under-the-hood changes aren't going to cause trouble. If the publisher of any of those apps says to wait, there's no harm in waiting. You lose nothing by sticking with your current version of OS X. Even if you download Mavericks when it arrives, you don't have to install it right away.

    It's also a sure thing that there may be early release bugs that Apple ignored, or overlooked to get the release out on schedule. It doesn't mean Apple wants to deliver a defective system upgrade, but it often takes installation by a wide circle of users for some of these problems to appear. Within a month or so after OS 10.9 arrives, there will likely be a 10.9.1 to address critical issues. You don't have to be an early adopter.

    In saying that, OS X Mavericks shows a lot of promise, and the early word from developers is that it works just great without a large amount of problems. All things being equal, OS 10.9 will deliver improved performance and the promise of better battery life on your Mac notebook. There are also new hooks or tools for developers to enhance their apps, but that doesn't mean developers will get with the program right away — or ever.

    You can be assured, regardless, that large publishers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, have their own agendas, and those agendas don't always include supporting every cool feature in OS X.

    In saying that, unless there's a show stopper, I expect to install Mavericks on Day One, and I will post ongoing reports of the experience. Yes, there are already published reports about the developer releases, but, until the new OS is finally released, you haven't read the final word.

    SHOULD I SWITCH FROM AT&T?

    In anticipation of the arrival of the iPhone, I switched to AT&T in 2007; I had previously been subscriber to Verizon Wireless. Despite AT&T's promises of "fewer dropped calls," my experience in the Phoenix area wasn't quite so pleasant. There were frequent instances of poor reception or disconnects, even before I bought my first iPhone. The original AT&T handsets I acquired were made by Samsung and Motorola.

    Whenever I telephoned AT&T support to complain, they were friendly enough. They had me turn off the handsets, in order to push carrier updates that were supposed to reduce the problems. To an extent, they were correct, but I was more pleased to receive occasional letters about ongoing cell tower upgrades. It took a while, but reception became fairly decent in my local travel spots.

    I won't say whether it's a GSM versus CDMA situation, but I discovered that the audio quality at AT&T seemed more robust compared to Verizon Wireless. Although connection reliability was otherwise superior, the latter delivered audio with more digital artifacts. It was almost the analog versus digital comparison of old.

    Segue to 2013, as T-Mobile adds the iPhone and changes their plans.

    Up till T-Mobile and outspoken CEO John Legere upset the applecart, I had little reason to consider switching from AT&T. Service was pretty solid. I would have liked to have a cheaper plan, of course, but the cost of switching to another carrier didn't make a whole lot of sense, what with early termination fees.

    T-Mobile's scheme was simple and clever. They removed the handset subsidy from their plans, so you'd pay a separate fee for your mobile device, assuming you didn't simply buy it upfront. Once the handset was paid for, your monthly price would be reduced accordingly. That seemed fair, particularly because other carriers charged you a single fee, whether you had a subsidized phone or not. So you were, in essence, paying forever.

    In recent weeks, T-Mobile has added yet another wrinkle to the wireless carrier wars, and that's JUMP. It's a $10 monthly plan that allows you to upgrade up to two handsets every 12 months at $100 each. In short order, AT&T added a Next plan, and Verizon Wireless followed suit with EDGE. Both plans simply added a monthly fee that let you pay out your handset over a period that may be as long as two years, but allowed for early upgrades if you turned your existing device in. But since you were still paying a monthly service fee that included the handset subsidy, in a sense you were paying twice for the same handset.

    The critics of T-Mobile's JUMP plan, however, remind you that it's essentially a glorified handset insurance plan. But it might appeal to some who want to regularly upgrade their smartphones for the latest and greatest before their current handset is paid off.

    In any case, switching to a new carrier is not a casual matter. It has to be considered carefully. In addition to an early upgrade feature, I would want to compare the monthly price to see if I'm saving enough money for the move to make sense.

    But one of the most important considerations is the quality of the network. Here, AT&T beats T-Mobile in offering LTE service around the U.S. Their overall coverage is, in general, superior. But the fourth largest carrier is a scrappy upstart, and T-Mobile's network is in the midst a nationwide expansion. In areas where both AT&T and T-Mobile offer LTE, performance is said to be very similar. There may also be regions where one carrier beats the other in terms of service quality, and for that, you'll want to ask your friends and co-workers what their experiences have been. Sure, there are reviews covering carrier reliability in larger cities from Consumer Reports and other publications, but that doesn't mean a carrier will work well in your neighborhood, or even in your own home.

    The final issue is the cost of exiting your current carrier. If your contracts are up, no problem. The new carrier will even port your existing phone numbers for you. But if there are still a number of months remaining on your existing contracts, prepare to pay early termination fees that may cost you hundreds of dollars extra. So even if you save a fair amount by the switch, you might still find yourself behind the eight ball.

    One more thing: Before you leave your current carrier, talk to them. Maybe they'll find a "secret" plan that will save you money. Competition is fierce. They do not want to lose your business, especially if you're a  postpaid customer, meaning you pay a monthly bill rather than prepay for your service. If you're postpaid, you mean a lot to the carrier, so take advantage of it.

    For me: Most of my wireless contracts will be up by fall. T-Mobile reportedly offers good service, with full LTE support, in the Phoenix area. So I will weigh my options and think real carefully about whether to stay with AT&T or switch. But if I do decide to take a walk, I'll call them first and see if they can offer me a special deal to stay.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #715”

    1. Ted Schroeder says:

      I'd strongly recommend asking AT&T for a discount before switching.

      1) What have you got to lose?

      2) I'd guess that all the phone companies have a baseline 'secret' plan that the reps are allowed to offer if the customer is threatening to take their business elsewhere. It just makes sense. Would they rather have that customer at a discount or not have that customer at all?

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on August 12th, 2013 at 7:47 AM:

      @Ted Schroeder, Oh, I will be asking. Thanks.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    2. SteveS says:

      Gene,

      Honestly, switching carriers is a decision that only you can answer. People may have personal preferences one way or the other. What's important to me may not be important to you and vice versa. It's also a decision that can yield highly different results based on your geography.

      I can't speak for the Pheonix area. I'm in the northeast and AT&T works very well there. I have LTE access pretty much everywhere I go now. I'm not an advocate of AT&T per se. I see the process of choosing carriers as an exercise of choosing the lesser of evils (so to speak).

      Having said that, the best thing you can do is to make the most informed decision. Aside from price and all that, since you've been with AT&T since 2007, you're probably grandfathered into their unlimited access plan unless you've since chosen another plan. To me, that's a nice feature, if only in concept. That's one of the reasons I've stayed with AT&T this long.

      Reply To This Comment

    3. MarkM says:

      I've been with T-Mobile for 14 years, and have never been disappointed. Unlike others people I know with those other carriers!

      Reply To This Comment

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