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  • Newsletter Issue #732

    December 9th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    With earlier OS X releases, by now you'd see a maintenance update to fix early bugs. Yes, there was that Mail for Mavericks release, along with a new version of iBooks, but the global release hasn't happened, at least not yet. Yes, there are published reports of a 10.9.1 under construction, but nothing is being rushed out.

    So does that mean that Mavericks is a much more stable release than earlier upgrades? Perhaps, although I realize there are scattered issues with the new multiple monitors feature, and those Gmail bugs were only partly addressed in the Mail update. There are other matters yet to be resolved.

    Nonetheless, with Mavericks now installed on roughly one-third of all Macs still in use, it is certainly time to empower our readers and listeners to get the most value out of the upgrade. So on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, our featured guests include prolific tech author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who will give you his opinions about the highly successful OS X Mavericks upgrade. You'll also hear tips and tricks for Mavericks and also iOS 7.

    You'll discover a technology that might save traditional AM and FM radio in the U.S., known as HD Radio. We've brought HD Radio's Rick Greenhut to explain the shortcomings of existing radio broadcasting techniques, and how HD Radio embeds a digital signal to deliver crystal clear sound.

    Now I've recently had some hands on experience with HD Radio, and I'm impressed. Getting crisp noise free audio from AM is a huge plus, although it's too bad some of my favorite stations in this area have yet to embed digital signals on their transmissions. But maybe they will when it comes time to upgrade transmission equipment.

    We'll also feature one of our favorite guests with an attitude, Rik Myslewski, Managing Editor for The Register, a UK-based "snarky" tech publication, who will cover such issues as the recent decision of the U.S. House to approve a law that will put serious controls on so-called patent trolls. He'll also talk about Apple's chip advantage with the 64-bit A7, and the prospects for a larger iPad, with a 12.9-inch display, which some are calling the iPad Pro. Will it be Apple's answer to the so-called convertible notebook that combines a touchscreen with a traditional form factor.

    I'll have more to say about that larger iPad and its prospects in the next article.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present the return of independent researcher Thomas P. Fusco. Fusco has devoted some three decades investigating the relationship between mind, physics, spirituality, parapsychology, scientific anomalies and paranormal phenomena with the goal of uncovering the unifying cosmological framework that has eluded mankind for generations. On this episode, he'll be expanding on his theory of supergeometry as detailed in his book, "Behind the Cosmic Veil: A New Vision of Reality," which integrates reality, spiritual, and the supernatural, including UFOs and other strange events.

    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.

    AN iPAD PRO: A MAC REPLACEMENT?

    First, let me thank The Register's Rik Myslewski for raising some intriguing possibilities that I'll expand upon in this article. You see, in recent months, there have been ongoing rumors that Apple is working on a 12.9-inch version of the iPad. Some call it an iPad Pro, while others use the name iPad Maxi; I lean towards the first if such a beast comes to be. It just sounds better.

    Now those rumors, in large part, come from the supply chain, and I suppose Apple is probably sampling various iPad form factors, so the rumors are probably true. But that doesn't we'll see one in the flesh. Remember there were also reports that Apple was sampling TV sets, and where's that gone?

    But before we look at what Apple might have in mind with a larger iPad, consider the state of the personal computer market. Traditional PCs, and that includes Macs, are not growing anymore. Sure, perhaps Apple can stem the erosion with wonderful new products, a few strategic price cuts, and lots of promotion, but the long-term trends seem clear. The PC is yesterday's news.

    Now on the Windows PC side of the ledger, there's a huge push for convertible notebooks developed under Intel's UltraBook program. The layout is not new. On the surface, it's just a standard notebook, but you can rotate the screen, perhaps remove it, and convert it into a tablet. The hope and dream is to offer the best of both. But it's not an inexpensive solution, and it's one that answers a question few have asked, so customers haven't been buying.

    Certainly there are common sense reasons to want a traditional notebook, particularly the presence of a real keyboard. Even if you're really flexible with a touchscreen, it'll never be quite as good, even with a Swype keyboard, the one where you slide rather than tap. That's why third-party companies make keyboards for iPads and other tablets, and it's certainly the reason why Microsoft touted the Surface tablet's touch cover. For heavy-duty productivity that involves lots of text, it's still the best solution.

    Now some people have actually used an iPad as a notebook replacement, and it works quite well except for the smaller screen and, oh yes, the need to connect a keyboard from time to time. But one common criticism is the fact that, not only is even the larger iPad's display not large enough for some chores, wouldn't it be nice to be able to access more than one document, or more than one app, at the same time, just as you can with a Mac or a PC?

    Yes, Android gear is capable of traditional multitasking, and certainly today's iPad is more than capable of supporting that feature if Apple chooses to add it to iOS.

    Now take the mythical iPad Pro. First and foremost, the larger display will almost demand multiple document and app windows. The keyboard options would likely be as they are now, unless Apple relents and offers some sort of convenient docking method that doesn't require the cover, but that would probably work against a seamless design. Regardless, you'll be able to connect a keyboard if that's what you need.

    So far so good.

    Now some people are suggesting that Apple, having made huge progress in boosting performance of the A-series chips, might consider using them on a future MacBook Air. But would it run traditional Mac apps? Not hardly, unless they were recompiled for ARM, or the chip had some sort of emulation feature. But this is getting complicated.

    The real question is whether there is any reason for an iPad Pro to run OS X, or Mac apps? Apple is, after all, building iWork as a suite of apps that work pretty much the same on iOS or OS X. More and more powerful iOS apps are being released that exploit the higher performance levels of the latest hardware.

    But since iOS is designed to support limited resource hardware, developers have become mighty efficient in making a little go a long way. In contrast, Mac apps, as with their Windows counterparts, are incredibly bloated, the stuff of years and years of development for expandable systems. Slimming down Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office to work efficiently in an iOS environment would be near impossible, so why bother?

    The iOS represents a restart. So Apple might deliver hardware, such as the larger iPad, which can be used to perform the very same tasks as today's Mac, only developers would have to be smart about building fast and efficient apps. At the same time, existing Macs would continue to be built so long as demand exists for them, and it would probably take a number of years before Apple would consider consigning them to maintenance mode.

    In the meantime, new generations of productive apps would live and prosper on the iOS platform, as Apple built out larger, more powerful models to address more demanding computing tasks. Call it the reinvention of the Mac in a new, far more efficient form factor that starts with smartphones and expands through a wide range of iPads and other products.

    Rather than a marriage between iOS and OS X, Apple would make the iPad the true Mac replacement for most users. Now Microsoft wants to go the other direction, which is to force a mobile device to behave as a PC. You saw how that worked out with the Surface tablet.

    What is clear is that Apple has a long-range plan with iOS, the iPhone, the iPad, and their successors. Being a true 21st century all-purpose personal computer is clearly part of the plan.

    YET ANOTHER HOLIDAY SEASON WITHOUT THE APPLE TV FINAL SOLUTION

    When that famous quote, attributed to Steve Jobs, about the magical TV interface that would upend the industry, first appeared, some believed Apple's solution was almost at hand. But it's been two years since Jobs' passing, and even the Apple TV hasn't been upgraded for a while. The model you buy today was first released in 2012, where supported was added for 1080p video.

    This doesn't mean today's Apple TV is a dead-end product, or not up to the task. Over time, Apple has added more and more channels, and the selection is fairly decent, although the main competitor, Roku, is more comprehensive. But an Apple TV also features iTunes and seamless AirPlay streaming from your OS X and iOS devices, so you could actually use one as the ideal gadget to cut the cable cord.

    I'm serious. In addition to buying or renting movies from iTunes, you can get lots of content from the likes of Hulu Plus and Netflix — but not Amazon Instant Video. That, and perhaps an antenna for local stations, should be enough to give you a cheap and fairly comprehensive collection of TV and movie programming. Forget about Comcast, Cox, DirecTV and all the rest.

    But I hardly think that just adding more channels is Apple's end game. For one thing, a wide selection of channels, each of which has their own unique programming environments and content, is apt to make things all the more confusing. Instead of picking from one known source of TV content, as you do with cable, you have many, each of which may be more than just another TV station.

    So where is Apple heading?

    Some published reports suggest there are deals in the works with the entertainment industry, in advance of Apple offering a subscription service that would replace cable or satellite. Other stories say that the industry is balking at Apple's stringent terms, just as the music companies did in the early days of iTunes. Regardless, nothing's happened, at least not yet.

    Yet another set of published reports suggest that Apple is poised to strike a deal with the cable companies, starting with Time Warner Cable. The goal would be to present the carrier's service within Apple's own unique environment, with cloud-based storage of the shows you want to record for later viewing. This would be far more efficient than giving everyone a box with a fragile hard drive. But it's not as if that deal is poised to come to pass any time soon. Right now, there are yet other reports indicating that Time Warner Cable wants to sell itself off, a move that might impact possible business moves with Apple or anyone else.

    Yet it's not that other companies are doing better to reform the TV viewing experience. Many sets sold nowadays offer "smart" features, which usually consist of similar collections of streaming apps, such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu. It's not at all certain that large numbers of users buy a set because of the number of apps offered. More often it's about price and screen size. Indeed, with the report that LG, as one example, might be tracking your behavior when you run those apps, or just change channels, it doesn't seem as if the customer even matters.

    Meantime, Google TV may rebrand itself as Android TV next year.  But Google's only real success so far is the Chromecast video streaming USB dongle, which may have security issues, but at least it's cheap.

    In any case, it'll be some time in 2014 before Apple's ultimate direction for the living room is clear, or maybe not even then. At this point, then, just about any prediction is probably as good as another.

    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 #732”

    1. Ted Schroeder says:

      If I were Apple, I'd be tempted to see if Comcast buys Time-Warner and if it does, then have Apple buy Comcast. I admit, it's very unlikely - but, I'd love to see the tech analysts' jaws collectively drop.

      Or have Apple buy Time-Warner directly...?

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on December 9th, 2013 at 9:24 AM:

      @Ted Schroeder, I think it would be a waste of money for Apple to buy a cable company. Remember that their coverage area is restricted to certain states, whereas Apple wants the entire world.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Russ says:

      Gene -

      I am not sure why you think that a larger iPad screen will demand multitasking. The reverse may be more true, but I still do not see them as cause and effect. Multitasking becomes easier with a larger screen, but there is still a lot I can do with a larger screen that does not require multitasking. By the same token, multitasking, especially seeing two programs side-by-side, doesn't make much sense on my iPhone.

      Reply To This Comment

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