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  • Newsletter Issue #716

    August 19th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So OS X Mavericks seems to look very much like OS X Mountain Lion, except for the lack of those controversial skeuomorphic flourishes on such apps as Contacts and Calendar. But is that sufficient to hang an upgrade on?

    Well, if you look at what's really going on, the changes are far more than skin deep. In fact, the surface differences are, in the scheme of things, not so drastic. But such things as Finder tabs and labels, improved memory management, and the promise of more efficient use of power, raise hopes that OS 10.9 will be a very compelling upgrade, more so than Lion and Mountain Lion.

    Now on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Macworld's "iTunes Guy," Kirk McElhearn, who  discussed a peculiar Apple Mail bug in Mountain Lion that may cause your email to be sent from the wrong account. Fixed in Mavericks? I suppose we'll know by fall. He also tackled the ongoing Apple ID conundrum, where you still cannot merge two or more IDs regardless of the reason.

    Up next was outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, from The Loop, and iMore, who talked about the recent announcement that billionaire investor Carl Icahn had invested in Apple, what might come from Apple's iPhone announcement, which is expected on September 10, the ins and outs and potential of the forthcoming OS X Mavericks, and the promise of iOS 7.

    As with OS X Mavericks, the critics of iOS 7 have spent so much time complaining about the look that they've forgotten what the other changes are. Or haven't bothered to check. I'll have a lot more to say on that subject when iOS 7 arrives, probably before September 20, thus beating the fall deadline.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris welcome movie documentary producer James Fox back to the show. On this episode, the outspoken filmmaker will explain what went wrong with the National Geographic "Chasing UFOs" reality show, on which he was a co-host. He also recount his amazing eight-day visit with long-time UFO investigator Ray Stanford, and some of what he learned. Fox will also give you a preview of the forthcoming UFO documentary he is working on, which has the working title of "701." This number represents the number of UFO cases the Air Force's Project Bluebook failed to explain.

    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.

    CHANGING PERCEPTIONS ABOUT APPLE

    So when it was announced that outspoken billionaire Carl Icahn had invested millions of dollars in Apple stock, and the stock was "extremely undervalued," in a Tweet no less, the price predictably rose. This was after being in the doldrums for months, on the theory that Apple has had its day in the sun, and it was time for Samsung and other companies to take over.

    Of course, it doesn't seem to matter that Apple is, by percentage at least, more profitable than Samsung. It doesn't matter that another company that seems to always get a pass on Wall Street, Amazon, rarely shows much of a profit. The financial community seems to take Amazon's financial model in stride, yet the vaguest indication that Apple might not be doing as well as before starts a freakout.

    Of course there's yet another element in recent days that may have made some investors feel better about Apple, and that's the promise of a September 10 media event where the new iPhone is expected to be introduced. Not that Apple has announced any such thing, but it appears that some journalists have gotten advance word, and that's enough to make it seem credible.

    And, as I've written previously, I take it seriously too. The timing is good for Apple, and very much in line with last year. Assuming enough new iPhones will be available to sell at the starting gate, the final days of Apple's first financial quarter should be very profitable. Of course it's also true that people might be holding off on buying new iPhones in anticipation of something better.

    Now I suppose you might just want to suggest that Wall Street is finally coming to its senses about Apple, or merely feels more confident because a high-profile investor has gotten involved. Perhaps they feel there will be significant changes in store, although it appears that Icahn is more concerned about stock buybacks. Such transactions might look good on paper, though it's not as if these financial schemes actually help a company sell more products, nor do they help finance R&D. But I suppose if the financial community prefers money games, then it appears Apple has already complied.

    The real issue, once again, is what Apple might deliver come next month and beyond. As it stands, we know there's a major Mac Pro revamp on the horizon. Apple has even put ads in movie theaters heralding the arrival of the new workstation.

    The next question is what is Apple going to deliver besides iPhones, a Mac Pro, and no doubt other Mac refreshes, along with revised iPads? Will there be one of those alleged industry shattering products that moves Apple in a new direction? Or somehow expands some existing product, such as a certain hobby or "grand vision" known as the Apple TV?

    What about the rumored iWatch? There have been reports about a new executive to manage some special projects, and hiring more engineers to oversee development of such an animal. But most everyone who writes about s smartwatch seems to view such a gadget within the constraints of current products, which haven't sold very well. If we did that before the iPhone arrived, you'd be looking at a BlackBerry-style device with a tiny physical keyboard.

    So if Apple truly has something in mind in the wearable devices segment, don't expect it to be anything you've seen before. That's not Apple's way. With the TV space, well the Apple TV at any rate, with its slowly expanding content roster, does seem show a direction, but the end game isn't certain yet. Maybe not even to Apple.

    Of course Apple could always up and buy Twitter, as some silly pundits have already suggested. Heaven knows why, since Apple can work perfectly well with Twitter as a separate company. In fact, they already do, but logic doesn't always influence what some commentators suggest. If it did, maybe you'd see more sensible coverage about Apple, at least when these people stop salivating over Samsung and Microsoft.

    Oh, that's right, nobody salivates over Microsoft anymore.

    But some commentators are going nuts over the prospects of that $8,500 curved OLED TV that Samsung is introducing for the U.S. Early reviews say it has a great picture, as it should, since it costs more than eight times more than many mainstream 55-inch flat panels. But it's not eight times as good, and that curved screen appears to be an acquired taste. Or maybe Samsung just wanted to be different. Consider the Galaxy S4 smartphone with tilt to scroll and other useless and barely functioning features. But at least it doesn't cost $8,500 for the privilege, if that's what you call it.

    Meantime, it's perfectly reasonable for people to be skeptical about Apple, especially in the post-Jobs era. Apple has done well, with a few hiccups along the way, although I think the Maps scandal was way overblown. The question will almost always be: "What have you done for me lately?" and how Apple answers that question may indicate how long the stock price continues to climb. But that also assumes the few days of Apple fever haven't already subsided.

    IS A CHEAP iPHONE ALL ABOUT THE CONNECTOR?

    Apple certainly took it on the chin when the 30-pin Dock connector was ditched and replaced with Lightning. Yes, Lightning is smaller, and is non-directional, so you don't have to look at the faint decal to see which end is right. But it was different, making loads of existing accessories obsolete; well, obsolete without an adapter plug.

    For Apple, this change made sense, for it may unlock new features that we haven't heard about yet. And it's nice to be able to make a connection without fretting over polarity or perhaps risking damage to a plug or jack if you push too hard. But the critics said that, if Apple intended to make a change, why not Mini-USB, or Micro-USB? I think about my Logitech Performance MX mouse that uses one of those tiny and indescribable USB ports to hook up to the charger; actually, Logitech's spec sheet says Micro-USB. But you have to be real careful not to twist it out of shape and break something. Yet the connector Samsung uses on the Galaxy S4 smartphone is not compatible with the Logitech, even though both cable schemes are supposed to be Micro-USB.

    So it actually appears that my Logitech mouse has a proprietary port similar to Micro-USB, but not the same. It's not that Logitech's specs are wrong; perhaps there was a production change mid-cycle to make it more consistent with international standards.

    In the end, Apple shouldn't be forever bound with existing connection schemes, and it makes sense that, if they move to something new, they work hard to make all current iPhones, iPads and iPods compatible. That factor may have hastened the arrival of a fourth generation iPad last fall, though it was admittedly much faster too.

    What this means is that all the new iPhones you'll be able to buy after that September launch will support Lightning, if the predictions are correct. There will not be a legacy iPhone 4s configuration, and probably not an iPhone 5 either. Instead, a number of articles, and leaked photos of alleged prototypes, all indicate an iPhone 5s plus a less expensive gadget with a plastic case that's been dubbed the iPhone 5c. Both will  support Lightning, which will only hasten the transition even further. Maybe Apple will even be able to demonstrate some new features that were simply not possible with the older connection scheme.

    But I understand why consistency can be a nice thing. Wouldn't you rather have one charger for all your mobile gear? But is that Mini-USB or Micro-USB, and what's the advantage of USB anyway other than support on lots of existing devices? Both use five pins, but Micro-USB is the one that got European Union endorsement. So that means Apple must deliver a Lighting to Micro-USB adapter, which they do.

    What it comes down to is this: Apple doesn't change standards willy-nilly. Other than being reversible, and thus less apt to break by mistake, Lightning wasn't invented to give accessory makers conniptions. Apple wouldn't make an investment in that technology without a legitimate reason. Partly, it means that devices can be made smaller, or there is more room for other parts. There may also be real technology advances in the 8-pin Lighting method compared to the 30-pin scheme, but that may not play out for a while.

    In the meantime, some will continue to attack Apple for making changes supposedly for changes sake. But you have to ask Microsoft, in contrast, what advantage Windows 8 brings to the user experience, and how it makes the PC user, in the PC era's twilight, somehow more productive. Maybe the real answer to that question will explain why customers don't like Windows 8, and why it appears on the road to becoming a much larger failure than Windows Vista.

    As to consistent connection schemes, I prefer superior technology, even if the rest of the industry moves in another direction.

    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 #716”

    1. DaveD says:

      Microsoft is like a college professor who spends his/her days staying in the ivory tower losing the sense of what's happening outside.

      A touch-enabled notebook is a bad concept. My guess is that all OEMs will stop making it. This will stop the growth of unsold inventory. The OEMs already stopped making their version of the Surface RT. Dell probably has a good size pile and like Microsoft discounting the unsold units. Since Dell has yet to abandon the RTs joining Microsoft on a sinking cargo (overflowing with RTs) ship.

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Kaleberg says:

      Is anyone surprised that Apple is considered ripe for liquidation. I've been pushing the idea for years. Even when the stock was at its peak price, it made financial sense to turn the cash on hand into dividends and executive bonuses for the new executive team, start starving hardware and software development, cash out the store real estate and downgrade the engineering team. The company could coast into mediocrity for at least a decade, and probably give insiders five years to unload their stock before the industry analysts can finally stop covering up what happened. This worked in the 60s and 70s. It was the only way to make investment money in the 80s and into the 90s. Mitt Romney and Carl Icahn, among others, made a fortune on it. Hell, I even made a few bucks stripping the carcass. There is nothing like taking a working company and selling it off for parts.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on August 19th, 2013 at 10:17 AM:

      @Kaleberg, Exactly, play money games and don't produce anything. Any wonder why our economy is a mess for people who really want to work for a living?

      Peace,
      Gene

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